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Rehab After An Injury Is Much Riskier Than You Think

AmyM-300x261Earlier this year, we covered an analysis published by the BMJ that identified preventable medical errors as the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.

Recently, a study funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that nearly one third of patients admitted to rehab centers experience illness or injuries as a result of their medical care.

Dr. David Classen, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Utah School of Medicine who played a key role in the study, stresses the importance of taking immediate steps to curb medical errors. “If the first rule of health care is ‘Do no harm,’ then we’re failing,” Dr. Classen said.

The study looked at a broad sampling of inpatient rehab centers that were not associated with hospitals. The patients involved were undergoing intensive rehabilitation for injury, illness, and surgery, and were all healthy enough to undergo at least 3 hours of physical and occupational therapy daily, 5 days a week.

Out of 417 patients, 158 experienced adverse incidents during their care that included infections, medication errors, and bedsores. The harm that resulted from these incidents ranged from temporary injuries to permanent disability and death. According to the study, half of these incidents were “clearly or likely preventable.”

Along with medication errors, the physicians that took part in the study cited insufficient monitoring and failure to provide necessary care as the most damaging factors.

Patients may be fooled into thinking that rehab centers carry a lower risk of harmful medical errors than hospitals or nursing homes, but that’s not the case. “It’s important to acknowledge that harm can occur in any type of inpatient setting,” said Amy Ashcraft, one of team leaders of the study. “This is one of the settings that’s most likely to be underestimated in terms of what type of harm can occur.”

The findings are consistent with similar studies conducted by the Office of Inspector General in recent years, which found that 29% of hospital patients and 33% of skilled nursing facility patients experienced harm as a result of their care.

“We’re fooling ourselves if we say we have made improvement,” said Dr. Classen.

It is essential for patients to be their own best advocates, ask questions of their doctors and seek second opinions. When a doctor or an institution does make an error that endangers or harms a patient, it is equally important that we hold them responsible in court for the damages they inflicted.

Sources: Allen, Marshall, “Rehab Hospitals May Harm A Third Of Patients, Report Finds,” NPR, 21 July 2016.

Levinson, Daniel R., “Adverse Events in Rehabilitation Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare Beneficiaries,” Department of Health and Human Services, July 2016.