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15 medical-mistake deaths in Minnesota last year, but error rate drops

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The term "medical errors" is one that strikes fear in patients and health professionals alike. Two new reports from the Minnesota Department of Health find mixed results in the number of those problems in Minnesota hospitals and surgery centers.

An annual report, released Thursday, was mandated by the Legislature in 2003. Another report evaluates progress made in the last 10 years.

The Pioneer Press says state officials and hospital leaders in Minnesota "are claiming success" in the downward trend of the number of adverse events and preventable errors.

The Associated Press reports that adverse events are on the decline, falling by 18 percent. Reports of surgical errors (such as wrong-site operations or foreign objects left in patients) dropped by 36 percent. Hospital officials said patients are safer than they were a decade ago when Minnesota first started publicly listing hospitals that committed any of 28 adverse events.

Despite that, the Star Tribune adds that state data show less progress in the number of patient deaths. Health officials say there were 14 deaths two years ago and 15 last year, which was the highest number of deaths in five years. Most deaths were the result of patient falls. There were two deaths involving medication errors and one childbirth-related death.

"Overall, the 10-year look back shows encouraging progress as does parts of the 2013 report," Diane Rydrych, director, MDH Health Policy Division, said in a department release Thursday. "But the fact that harm did not decrease in 2013 shows that this is also the sort of work that is never done and requires constant attention."

The state report shows that a total of 258 adverse events were reported in the 12-month period ending Oct. 6 — the lowest total in five years. Preventable mishaps in surgery declined from 84 in the previous year to 61 last year. The report also tracked five cases of criminal events in hospitals in 2013 – an unusually high number.

“These adverse health experiences are a wicked problem, in the common parlance,” said Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s health commissioner told the Star Tribune. “They’re really complex. They’re [due to] multiple factors. They’re difficult to eliminate, but they are not totally intractable.”

"During October 2012-October 2013 ... Minnesota hospitals reported 2.6 million patient days," the report states. "Accounting for the volume of care provided across all hospitals in the state, roughly 9.7 events were reported by hospitals per 100,000 total patient days, (which) is down from the past five years."

The report noted that hospitals and surgery centers believe that health care providers such as clinics and cosmetic surgery centers should also be required to publicly report adverse events. Health officials say the reporting has helped change a mindset that errors were just part of doing business.

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