Is Technology the Answer to Reducing Medical Malpractice Claims?

In every area of our lives, technology has become the key to making everything easier. We once used typewriters and were forced to use erasers to correct typing errors. Everyone was excited when they saw the first word processing software. Fortunately, this new technology made erasers a thing of the past.

Technology has played a large role in reducing errors in every industry and business. New ideas are not just limited to industry. They also can play an important role in protecting people's lives while they undergo medical procedures and tests.

The Problem—Malpractice Costs on the Rise

Medical malpractice claims are the result of injuries caused by negligence on the part of a medical professional. In other words, medical errors cause most of the injuries that lead to medical malpractice lawsuits. With health care costs are on the rise, communities are beginning to recognize the need for partnerships between healthcare professionals, patients, and insurance companies.

Since 1994, the costs to health care professionals for negligence have gone up. Both insurance premiums and damage amounts place an excessive burden on these professionals. Medical malpractice lawsuits have resulted in damage awards that now exceed $3.5 million each year. Everyone but the lawyers has something to be gained by reducing the numbers of medical errors that lead to these lawsuits.

Reduce Errors

Physicians and other medical professionals work hard to achieve the knowledge necessary to treat patients in the 21st century. Their hard work has helped cure diseases and repair injuries in ways that were thought impossible only 20 years ago.

Society is tempted to place doctors on pedestals, thinking they share space among the rich and famous. In reality, these people are hard-working and dedicated in the jobs that they do. They are also human. Humans make mistakes, sometimes. When a doctor or other medical professional makes a mistake, patients can be injured.

Each year, approximately 98,000 people lose their lives because of medical negligence of some type. Many more are injured severely. Some of these injuries are financially and emotionally devastating, but heal with time. Unfortunately, some of these injuries are lifelong requiring continued medical care. Families find that they face enormous medical bills and are most likely unable to pay for the care needed by their injured loved ones.

Obviously the best answer is to reduce the numbers of medical errors. Searching for solutions, hospitals and other medical professionals are banding together to identify ways to reduce medical errors.

Technology Offers Hope

Technology offers the best hope for an error free environment. Many hospitals now use digital codes to track and identify medications. A digital code is also placed on employee badges and patient wristbands. Nurses use this technology to ensure that the correct medication is used for the correct patient. They simply scan the medication code, and then verify it against the patient's wristband. This allows other hospital personnel to review a more accurate record of medications used and the times they were dispensed in the patient file

Lab personnel use scanning technology to ensure that the proper lab test is conducted on each patient. They also can verify that the lab test is placed into right person’s file.

Pharmacists are encouraged by a new spectroscopy machine that will help ensure that the proper medication is used along with the proper amount for patients. At this time, it only works on liquid medication. A pharmacist draws an amount of medication and puts it in the machine. The spectroscopy then uses ultraviolet light to analyze the florescent signature of the medication. Each medication has its own unique florescent fingerprint. The machine also ensures that the amount being tested matches the amount ordered by the physician. Once that is verified, the pharmacist knows that the batch of medication is safe to be dispensed to the patient.

At this point, spectroscopy is only available for high risk medications like chemotherapy drugs. Professionals plan to expand to more common medications like narcotics and antibiotics soon. Plans are being drawn up to extend this technology for use in hospitals. Hopefully one day, spectroscopy and other new technologies will make medication errors a thing of the past.

As the use of technology becomes pervasive in the fight against medical errors, the numbers of lawsuits caused by them should begin to come down. Once the insurance industry can verify that technology is effective in reducing numbers of malpractice claims, malpractice insurance premiums should begin to come down as well.

While the use of technology offers encouraging news to medical professionals and patients alike, it will never take the place of training and vigilance. Medical professionals must never use new technologies as a crutch to become complacent. After all, machines have not yet replaced a surgeon's hands.