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Hospital Errors and Patient Death

New study calls into question the timing of when hospital patients receive drugs

Researchers suggest hospitals prioritize workers’ schedules over times that are better suited to patients

A new study conducted by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital explored how hospitals determine the schedules for administering drugs to patients. Researchers found that the driving force behind such timing is not patient need. 

Instead, the researchers learned that many hospitals tend to give patients drugs on a schedule that best matches up with their employees’ schedules, though this is oftentimes to the detriment of patients.. 

“For every drug, order times w...

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    Hospitals show some improvement in safety

    But an estimated 200,000 Americans still die from medical errors

    When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to find yourself.

    In the past, hospitals didn't always have access to the latest treatments. Today, most have excellent capabilities, but they don't always have the resources or systems to handle the patient load. This can lead to breakdowns in safety that can result in patient injures and infections.

    According to Leapfrog, which conducts annual hospital reviews, hospital mishaps kill over 200,000 Americans each year, making hospital mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

    Making the grade

    Since not all hospitals are alike and some have much better safety records than others, it might be prudent to consult the data before selecting a hospital. In the latest Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade, which judged 2,633 hospitals and assigned letter grades, 844 earned an "A," 658 earned a "B," 954 earned a "C," 157 earned a "D" and 20 earned an "F."

    That means 57% of hospitals were ranked as either “excellent” or “good,” and only 6% were found to be “poor” or a “failure.” Of course, that's small comfort for patients admitted to that 6% of hospitals.

    Leapfrog found that geography sometimes plays a role, with some states able to attract the best hospital administration and best medical talent. North Carolina is a prime example. It was ranked 19th in spring 2013 for the number of “A” rated hospitals. In the current ranking, it's number five.

    Idaho has moved from number 45 – the the bottom of the list in 2013 – to number two today, one reason that the state has begun to attract more retirees. At the same time, Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, and Washington, D.C., have no “A” rated hospitals.

    Not equally competent

    "In the fast-changing health care landscape, patients should be aware that hospitals are not all equally competent at protecting them from injuries and infections,” said Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder. We believe everyone has the right to know which hospitals are the safest and encourage community members to call on their local hospitals to change, and on their elected officials to spur them to action.”

    You might think with hospital errors causing so many deaths each year, health policymakers would carefully keep track of them. However, they don't. The 200,000 figure is only an estimate.

    As we reported earlier this year, researchers at Johns Hopkins have called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create a category for hospital errors, much as it has for other health threats. The researchers say cancer and heart disease tend to get most of the attention. They say that since "medical errors" isn't an official category, it doesn't get the funding it needs.

    You can find out how hospitals in your area ranked here.

    When people are seriously ill or injured, they are usually admitted to a hospital. But it turns out that a hospital may not exactly be the safest place to...

    Medical mistakes may be America's third leading cause of death

    Johns Hopkins researchers say errors need to be officially tracked

    When you go into the hospital, you trust the medical staff will do everything in its power to make sure you leave alive.

    But Johns Hopkins researchers calculate that more than 250,000 people in the U.S. die each year because of medical errors. The researchers say it is difficult to know for sure, however, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not have a category for “medical errors” on death certificates.

    If the researchers are correct, mistakes made by health care professionals would be among the most common causes of death. The CDC's third leading cause of death, respiratory disease, kills a far fewer 150,000 per year.

    The problem, says Dr. Martin Makary, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, is medical mistakes have never been recognized in a standardized way of collecting statistics.

    “The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used,” Makary said.

    How do they know?

    But if that's true, how can the Hopkins researchers claim that medical mistakes kill a quarter million people each year?

    The researchers say they looked closely at four different studies of the medical death rate from 2000 to 2008. Using hospital admission rates, they concluded that 251,454 deaths were caused by a medical error, translating into 9.5% of all U.S. deaths.

    That would make medical mistakes the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer.

    Previous warnings

    The Johns Hopkins researchers are not exactly the first to suggest medical mistakes are a significant health and safety issue. ConsumerAffairs, in fact, has a Hospital Errors and Patient Safety category for articles we've written on the topic over the years.

    A study as far back as 2004 projected at least 200,000 annual deaths from medical errors. In 1999, when in-hospital deaths were estimated to be half that, the Institute of Medicine called medical error deaths a national epidemic.

    Makary says there is a very practical reason to begin acknowledging, and counting, deaths related to medical errors. Cause of deaths statistics, he says, set public health priorities.

    “Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don’t appear on the list, the problem doesn’t get the funding and attention it deserves,” Makary said.

    The researchers say most deaths caused by medical errors are not due to the quality or skill of medical personnel. Rather, they suggest poorly designed and inefficient health care systems are a threat to patient health and safety.

    When you go into the hospital, you trust the medical staff will do everything in its power to make sure you leave alive.But Johns Hopkins researchers c...

    Universal anti-bacterial treatment seen as best answer to hospital infections

    Large study finds that treating all patients as though they carry MRSA is most effective antidote

    The antiobiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA is a huge problem in hospitals but a new study finds a simple solution that reduces bloodstream infections in intensive care unit patients by up to 44 percent.

    The solution: treat every ICU patient as though they carry the infection. In a study involving 74 ICUs and more than 74,000 patients, it was found that providing germ-killing soap and ointment to all ICU patients reduced MRA by 37 percent and bloodstream infections by any germ by 44 percent.

    MRSA -- short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- is often present on the bodies of incoming patients. Besides infecting those patients when they are exposed to needle sticks and other skin punctures, it can also be spread to other patients in the ICU.

    The study, REDUCE MRSA trial, was published in the New England Journal of Medicineand took place in two stages from 2009-2011, involving a multidisciplinary team from the University of California, Irvine, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is the largest study of its kind to date.

    Three practices studied

    Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of three MRSA prevention practices: routine care, providing germ-killing soap and ointment only to patients with MRSA , and providing germ-killing soap and ointment to all ICU patients.   The study found:

    • Routine care did not significantly reduce MRSA or bloodstream infections.
    • Providing germ-killing soap and ointment only to patients with MRSA reduced bloodstream infections by any germ by 23 percent.
    • Providing germ-killing soap and ointment to all ICU patients reduced MRSA by 37 percent and bloodstream infections by any germ by 44 percent.

    "This will save lives, and sets a new standard for preventing bloodstream infections in the intensive-care unit," said Jonathan Perlin, president, clinical and physician services group and chief medical officer at HCA. HCA said it is now implementing the protocol in all of its hospital ICUs. 

    The antiobiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA is a huge problem in hospitals but a new study finds a simple solution that reduces bloodstream inf...

    Patient loads often make hospitals unsafe

    Increased patient care needs can lead to stressed staffing demands

    The folks in a position to know say the workload may be be having an adverse effect on the safety and quality of patient care at the nation's hospitals.

    More than one-quarter of hospital-based general practitioners across the U.S. who take over for patients' primary care doctors to manage inpatient care say their average patient load exceeds safe levels multiple times per month, according to a new Johns Hopkins study. Moreover, the study found that one in five of these physicians -- known as hospitalists -- reports the workload puts patients at risk for serious complications, or even death.

    The research, reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, comes as health care systems anticipate an influx of new patients generated by the Affordable Care Act -- also known as Obamacare -- over the next few years; as restrictions on resident-physicians limit their duty hours; and as one in three physicians is expected to retire or otherwise leave medicine over the next 10 years, cumulatively resulting in increased patient care needs coupled with stressed staffing demands.

    Impact on quality of care

    "As perceived by physicians, workload issues have the significant potential to do harm and decrease quality," says study leader Henry J. Michtalik, M.D., M.P.H., M.H.S., an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It is the elephant in the room that cannot be ignored. We have to find that balance between safety, quality and efficiency."

    The Johns Hopkins study comprised a survey of 890 hospitalists across the United States, 506 of whom responded. Twenty-two percent of the respondents reported ordering costly and potentially unnecessary tests, procedures or consults because they didn't have time to properly assess patients assigned to their care.

    "If a hospitalist is short on time and a patient is having chest pains, for example, the doctor may be more likely to order additional tests, prescribe aspirin and call a cardiologist — all because there isn't adequate time to immediately and fully evaluate the patient," Michtalik says.

    Voice of experience

    For the study, Michtalik, a hospitalist at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and his colleagues electronically surveyed self-identified hospitalists enrolled in an online physician community, QuantiaMD.com. Of those who responded over the course of four weeks in November 2010, the average age was 38 years and more than half worked in community hospitals.

    Among other questions, physicians were asked to report what they felt was a safe number of patients to see in a typical shift. Most physicians reported that they could safely see 15 patients in a shift if they could focus 100 percent on clinical matters. When the average actual workload was compared with the perceived safe workload, 40 percent of physicians exceeded their own reported safe level.

    Michtalik says that JHH's hospitalists typically stay below that number, while hospitalists at community hospitals often see more than 15 patients per shift.

    "Hospitals need to evaluate workloads of attending physicians, create standards for safe levels of work and develop mechanisms to maintain workload at safe levels," he adds.

    The folks in a position to know say the workload may be be having an adverse effect on the safety and quality of patient care at the nation's hospitals. ...

    Surgery Patients May Need Longer Hospital Stays

    Study finds patients are being sent home before they're ready

    Remember when most minor surgeries resulted in a two- or three-day stay in the hospital? Today, with the cost of hospital beds, many of these operations are now done on an outpatient basis.

    Those surgeries that do result in a hospital stay are usually short – shorter than they should be, according to a pair of logistical studies conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business.

    The studies show a correlation between readmission rates and how full the hospital was at the time of discharge, suggesting that patients went home before they were healthy enough. They further suggest that revenue drives the decision about when a patient is discharged.

    Better planning

    The researchers recommend better planning and other logistical solutions to avoid these problems.

    "Discharge decisions are made with bed-capacity constraints in mind," said University of Maryland Professor Bruce Golden, who conducted the research with Ph.D. student David Anderson and other colleagues. "Patient traffic jams present hospitals and medical teams with major, practical concerns, but they can find better answers than sending the patient home at the earliest possible moment."

    In the studies, Golden and Anderson tracked patient movement at a large, academic medical center located in the United States. They found that patients discharged when the hospital was busiest were 50 percent more likely to return for treatment within three days.

    This indicates recovery was incomplete when patients were first released, the researchers say. The study tracks occupancy rates, day of the week, staffing levels and surgical volume.

    Incentive-driven

    Golden says surgeons and hospitals are incentive-driven to perform as many surgical procedures as feasible. The more surgeries, the more revenue.

    "The hospital has to maintain revenue levels to meet its financial obligations,” Golden said. “Surgeons are working to save lives and earn a livelihood. It's what they do, If the hospital says 'sorry there are no beds available,' there's a lot of tension and pressure from both sides to keep things moving."

    Golden says big hospitals tend to have these problems more than smaller ones. Larger hospitals tend to provide more advanced, specialized surgeries not accessible at smaller, community institutions,the researchers say. Patients often have to travel a great distance for the procedures, so hospital delays become expensive for both them and the care providers.

    Ask more questions

    Part of the problem can be resolved with better planning, the researchers say.

    They suggest that surgeons use checklists before discharging the patient, asking more question about the patient's readiness to go home.

    Also, the studies suggest that hospitals increase the flexibility of where patients go post-surgery. Allowing them to be moved to units with empty beds, for example, could also lessen premature discharges.

    Though this may increase costs in the short run, discharging patients who then quickly return to the hospital offers no long-term savings, and decreases the quality of care, Golden said.  

    Remember when most minor surgeries resulted in a two or three-day stay in the hospital? Today, with the cost of hospital beds, many of these operations are...

    High Hospital Occupancy Rate Linked To High Death Rate

    Full hospital increases chances of dying by 5.6 percent

    The higher the occupancy rate at your hospital, the less likely you are to leave alive.

    That's the conclusion of a new University of Michigan Health System study that shows you have a 5.6 percent higher risk of dying in a hospital operating at near capacity.

    For the study, published in the March issue of Medical Care, researchers evaluated a set of critical factors that can affect hospital deaths: hospital occupancy, nurse staffing levels, weekend admission and seasonal influenza.

    Having more nurses made patients safer, decreasing risk by 6 percent. But weekend admission raised the risk by 7.5 percent and admission during widespread seasonal flu had the greatest impact by increasing the risk of death by 11.7 percent, according to the study.

    Because of the size of the study, which included 166,920 adult patients admitted to 39 Michigan hospitals over three years, the findings can be generalized to hospitals nationwide, authors say.

    "The study establishes that there is indeed a connection between hospital occupancy and death rates in U.S. hospitals," said lead author Peter L. Schilling, M.D., a resident in orthopedic surgery at U-M Health System. "It's important to emphasize though that this study does not identify a specific occupancy level above which patient care suffers and deaths abruptly become more common. The key occupancy level may differ for each hospital."

    First study to consider all four factors

    The findings are considered robust because each factor still had a significant impact even while evaluated in a model simultaneously. While this study is not the first to demonstrate that these factors are associated with in-hospital mortality, the U-M Health System is the first to compare all four at once.

    "The study further establishes each factor as a major predictor of hospital deaths but the good news is that each can be modified in some way," said co-author Darrell A. Campbell Jr., M.D., chief of clinical affairs at the U-M Health System.

    For instance, generally the peak flu season can be predicted and during those times, hospitals can reinforce the importance of hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

    The impact of seasonal flu may also be diminished by improving vaccination rates in the community and among health care workers. The rate of vaccination among health care workers and high-risk patients remains surprisingly low nationwide.

    Researchers calculated the occupancy of the hospitals every day for the years 2003-2006. On average, patients in the study were admitted while hospital occupancy was 73 percent of full capacity. One-third of patients were admitted on high occupancy days, at average levels of 80 percent or more.

    Study patients were admitted after being seen in the emergency department for a heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, pneumonia, hip fracture or gastrointestinal bleeding.

    "Hospital occupancy changes from day to day, so patients shouldn't try to choose a hospital based on its occupancy level," said co-author Matthew M. Davis, M.D. "But these kinds of study findings should prompt hospitals to look at the flow of patients and processes of their care teams during high occupancy times. Those are more challenging moments when more things can go wrong."



    High Hospital Occupancy Rate Linked To High Death Rate...

    Hospital Readmission Rate High For Medicare Heart Failure Patients

    Research shows need for improved care

    By James Limbach
    ConsumerAffairs.com

    November 11, 2009
    Almost a quarter of heart failure patients insured by with Medicare are back in the hospital within a month after discharge, researchers report in Circulation: Heart Failure, a journal of the American Heart Association.

    Each year, from 2004 through 2006, more than a half million Medicare recipients over age 65 went to the hospital for heart failure and were discharged. And each year, about 23 percent returned to the hospital within 30 days -- signaling a need to improve care, researchers said. Readmission rates for all causes were almost identical all three years.

    "I was hoping for improvement and was disappointed to find that was not the case," said Joseph S. Ross, M.D., M.H.S., the study's lead author and an assistant professor of geriatrics and palliative medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "Despite the increased focus on the need to reduce readmissions, about a quarter of patients are back into the hospital within 30 days."

    Heart failure occurs when a heart weakened by disease can no longer pump effectively. Before discharge heart failure patients should receive written information on:

    • Eating a proper diet;

    • Engaging in appropriate physical activity;

    • Taking medicines correctly;

    • Monitoring their weight; and

    • Knowing what to do if their symptoms worsen.

    However, the current fee system in the United States doesn't encourage a focus on prevention, researchers said. In their analysis, they report doctors and hospitals are financially awarded more for treating and hospitalizing patients, not for preventing hospitalizations through such strategies as disease management.

    "Physicians aren't paid to coordinate care," Ross said. "That physician is busy seeing patients and that's what they're paid to do. If we want to deliver better care, this trend is what we need to address."

    Another barrier to optimal care is a lack of communications between doctors who care for patients in the hospital and the patients' regular physicians who help patients manage their chronic disease, Ross said. The disruption to the continuum of care can have a negative effect on the patient.

    The average age of patients in the study was 80 years and more than half (57 percent) were women. Most patients had multiple chronic diseases: 60 percent had heart arrhythmias; 73 percent had atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries; 49 percent had diabetes; and 29 percent had kidney failure.

    "Coming back and forth into the hospital isn't good for patients, and it isn't good for the healthcare system," said Ross, who plans to research the reasons heart failure patients are readmitted to the hospital. "This is a tremendous challenge."

    Findings of the study are important for patients and hospitals, Ross said.

    "Patients should use this information to vet hospitals, to look at the quality of care delivered there and ask questions about the care they receive," he said. "Hospitals should consider the rehospitalization rate a grade which, from these findings, needs improvement."



    Hospital Readmission Rate High For Medicare Heart Failure Patients...

    Hospitals Score Low in Patient Survey

    Patients prefer higher quality of care than what they receive

    People don't much like what they find when they go the hospital.

    In a new study by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), researchers analyzed the first national data on patients' experiences in hospital settings and found that though patients are generally satisfied with their care, there is substantial room for improvement in a number of key areas, including pain management and discharge instructions.

    The study appears in the October 30, 2008 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

    "These data really represent a sea change for the health care system. Patient-centered care is at the heart of a high-performing system and until now, we have lacked information on how patients feel about their care. With this information now freely available, providers and policymakers can begin to focus on improving patients' experiences in the hospital," said lead author Ashish K. Jha, MD, MPH, and assistant professor of health policy at HSPH.

    The researchers analyzed data collected in the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey, which asked patients questions about their hospital experiences and their demographic characteristics.

    Responses were grouped into six areas: communication with doctors, communication with nurses, communication about medications, quality of nursing services, how well hospitals prepared patients for discharge and pain management. More than 2,400 hospitals reported data.

    The results showed that, on average, about 67 percent of patients would definitely recommend the hospital at which they were treated. Patients were more satisfied with hospitals that had a greater ratio of nurses to patients, which wasn't surprising to the researchers. However, the HCAHPS survey provides the first national data to show the important role that nurses can play in providing patient-centered care.

    Another important finding of the study was that hospitals with more satisfied patients generally provided higher quality of care as measured by standard quality metrics. Hospitals in which patients rated their care highly were more likely to provide the appropriate care for heart attack, congestive heart failure, pneumonia and prevention of surgical complications.

    "Our study confirms that there need be no tradeoff between ensuring that care is technically superb and addressing the needs of the patients," said senior author Arnold Epstein, MD, MA, and chair of the Department of Health Policy and Management at HSPH.

    There were large variations in patient-satisfaction performance across the country. For example, 71.9 percent of hospital patients in Birmingham, AL, gave their care a high rating (9 or 10 on a 10-point scale); hospitals in Knoxville, TN and Charlotte, NC received the next-highest scores.

    On the other hand, patients gave hospitals in East Long Island, NY, Fort Lauderdale, FL and New York City the lowest marks.

    The researchers were surprised by some results. Pain management has been the target of both accreditation and quality-improvement initiatives for many years, but nearly a third of patients did not give high ratings in that area. Discharge instructions have similarly been targeted for quality initiatives, but about a fifth of patients did not rate communications in that area highly.

    "Given that we spend more than $2 trillion annually for health care in our country, we should expect that the basics are addressed, like always treating pain adequately," Jha said.



    Hospitals Score Low in Patient Survey...

    U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone


    Not only do Americans pay much more for medical treatment than anyone else in the world, they also bear the brunt of the most medical errors, according to a survey covering the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Almost 7,000 patients were consulted.

    The survey supported by The Commonwealth Fund finds that one-third of U.S. patients with health problems reported experiencing medical mistakes, medication errors, or inaccurate or delayed lab results -- the highest rate of any of the six nations surveyed.

    While sicker patients in all countries reported safety risks, poor care coordination, and inadequate chronic care treatment, with no country deemed best or worst overall, the United States stood out for high error rates, inefficient coordination of care, and high out-of-pocket costs resulting in forgone care.

    Americans are the most likely to have to pay out-of-pocket expenses over $1,000, and 34 percent of the American patients surveyed said they had encountered either medication errors, wrong test results, late test results or treatment errors.

    Nation

    Errors

    USA

    34%

    Canada

    30%

    Australia

    27%

    New Zealand

    25%

    Germany

    23%

    UK

    22%

    One-third (34%) of U.S. respondents reported at least one of four types of errors: they believed they experienced a medical mistake in treatment or care, were given the wrong medication or dose, were given incorrect test results, or experienced delays in receiving abnormal test results.

    Three of 10 (30%) Canadian respondents reported at least one of these errors, as did one-fifth or more of patients in Australia (27%), New Zealand (25%), Germany (23%), and the U.K. (22%).

    While patient safety efforts have focused chiefly on hospital settings, most patients (60% or more) said these errors occurred outside the hospitala signal that safety initiatives should also focus on ambulatory care, said Cathy Schoen, the study's lead author and a senior vice president at The Commonwealth Fund.

    Patients receiving complex care may be at even higher risk of medical errors: the incidence of patient-reported errors rose sharply with the number of physicians seen. Despite studies showing patients value discussion about mistakes or errors, most patients (61% to 83%) in each country said the health care providers involved did not tell them about the mistakes.

    Communication issues also adversely affect patients' experiences during hospital stays. At least one-fifth of patients (19% to 26%) in the six countries reported communication gaps between themselves and hospital staff, and one-sixth said they would have liked greater involvement in decisions made about their care.

    Good transitional care -- helping patients transfer from hospital to home -- also relies on clear communication and coordination. In all six countries, however, at least one-third of patients said they did not receive instructions about symptoms to watch for, did not know whom to contact with questions, or were left without follow-up care arrangements.

    German patients had the highest rate of coordination deficiencies when discharged from the hospital, with 60 percent reporting failures to coordinate care. According to the authors, poor transitional care can result in complications and increase the likelihood of hospital readmission, raising concerns about costs as well as quality.

    While the U.S. performed better than most countries on the hospital transition measure, it had the highest rate of patients reporting coordination problems during doctor visits.

    One-third (33%) of U.S. respondents said that either test results or records were not available at the time of appointments or that doctors duplicated tests. These delays and duplications are a clear sign of inefficient care, the authors said, and waste both physicians' and patients' time and resources. Rates of care coordination problems in the other survey countries were significantly lower, ranging from one-fifth to one-quarter of patients reporting such problems.

    As was found in past surveys, the U.S. is an outlier in terms of financial burdens placed on patients. Onehalf of adults with health problems in the U.S. said they did not see a doctor when sick, did not get recommended treatment, or did not fill a prescription because of cost.

    Despite these high rates of forgone care, one-third of U.S. patients spent more than $1,000 out-of-pocket in the past year. In contrast, just 13 percent of U.K. adults reported not getting needed care because of costs, and two-thirds had no out-of-pocket costs.

    There were wide and significant variations in access and waiting times on multiple dimensions across the six countries. Respondents in Canada and the U.S. were significantly less likely than those in other countries to report same-day access and more likely to wait six days or longer for an appointment.

    At the same time, majorities of patients in New Zealand (58%) and Germany (56%), and nearly half in Australia (49%) and the U.K. (45%), were able to get same-day appointments. Waiting times for elective surgery or specialists were shortest in Germany and the U.S., with the majority of patients in both countries reporting rapid access.

    The authors say that no country emerges as a clear winner or loser. All survey countries experience high rates of safety risks, failure to coordinate care during transitions, inadequate communication, and a lack of support for chronically ill patients. These areas of shared concern, they conclude, will likely require policy innovations that transcend current payment and delivery systems.

    Facts and Figures:

    • More than one of four patients in each country (28% to 32%) said risks were not completely explained during their hospital stay.

    • In all countries, sizable majorities of patients said physicians had not always reviewed all their medications during the past year, and one-third or more reported infrequent reviews.

    • Across countries, one-sixth to one-fourth of patients said physicians only sometimes, rarely, or never make goals of care and treatment clear or give them clear instructions.

    • Relative to the U.S. and Canada, the four countries reporting comparatively rapid access to physiciansAustralia, Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K.also had significantly lower rates of emergency room use.

    ''What's striking is that we are clearly a world leader in how much we spend on health care," said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president for The Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation in New York that commissioned the survey. ''Clearly, we should be doing better."

    Other specialists agreed, saying the results offer the most recent evidence that the quality of care delivered by the U.S. healthcare system is seriously eroding even as health care costs skyrocket.

    U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone...