March 13, 2021
Beginning in 1999 with the Institute of Medicine’s report, “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” there has been a heightened awareness of the frequency and severity of medical errors in the U.S. The report described the nation as, “experiencing an epidemic of medical errors.”[i] The Institute of Medicine revisited the issue in a 2001 report, “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century” and reinforced the alarm stating, “The nation’s health care delivery system has fallen far short in its ability to translate knowledge into practice and to apply new technology safely and appropriately.”[ii] It is hard to know the exact number of medical errors in the U.S, but a study performed at Johns Hopkins claimed that more than 250,000 people die from medical errors, making it the third leading cause of death.[iii] For comparison, there were 629 deaths from airplane crashes in the U.S. in 2016. [iv]
Many patients survive medical errors, but are harmed as a result of miscommunication, flawed systems, lack of training and resources, and inadequate policies and procedures. When a patient experiences an unexpected an outcome, the chances of a lawsuit are higher. As such, almost every healthcare professional faces some degree of professional liability. In an article in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, there had not been a single successful malpractice case against a dietitian up to 1988.[v] Some thirty years later, the tide has turned. More adverse actions and malpractice payments have been reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB), however the frequency and severity of paid malpractice payments against dietetic practitioners are generally lower in comparison with other allied health professionals. Nonetheless, allegations of malpractice are not reserved for doctors and nurses. More than ever, dietetic professionals must practice defensively and regard risk management and patient safety as a priority.
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 The NPDB was established in 1986 and requires hospitals, health plans, licensing boards, and medical liability companies to report adverse actions and malpractice payments. This information is available to the general public.
[i] Kohn, LT, J Corrigan, and M S Donaldson. 1999. To err is human: building a safer health system. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
[ii] Institute of Medicine. 2001. Crossing the quality chasm: A new health system for the 21st century. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
[iii] Makary, Martin, and Michael Daniel. 2016. "Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US." BMJ 353 (i2139). doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2139.
[iv] Aircraft Crashes Records Office (ACRO). February 2017. "Deaths and incidents per year."
[v] Cross, A.T. 1988. "Malpractice liability in private practice of nutrition." Journal of the American Dietetic Association 8: 946-948.
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