It is certainly one of the medical industry’s central frustrations that preventable medical errors recur in hospitals nationally, including in New Jersey.

Over and over and over again.

That they do is especially disconcerting because the error rate for things like medication mistakes, surgical errors and other outcomes that harm patients is routinely and dramatically reduced by the simple absence of negligence.

Medical research teams, hospital administrators and safety advocates constantly express surprise and dismay over the jarring statistics relating to preventable harm. A recent study that is now being repeatedly cited notes, for instance, that as many as 440,000 patients might be dying annually in American hospitals owing to errors that simply should not be occurring.

The obvious question looms increasingly large: What can be done about that? Is there a prescription for industry health, that is, something that can be done to reduce mistakes that simply shouldn’t be happening?

Researchers in a new study believe there is, and they have just issued some guidelines for change that appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.

If the spotlight shines most brightly on a particular theme in the research, it is this: Traditionally, and as noted by a recent media article discussing the study, the medical industry is tight-lipped about errors and “closes ranks” against those alleging mistakes or seeking concrete information about them.

That closed culture is supplemented by other anti-disclosure attributes that include “power dynamics,” professional courtesy, jealousies, fear of reprisal and other factors.

Study researchers say that communication simply has to be improved and that the goal in every instance must be the fullest promotion of patients’ best interests. Errors must be reported when seen, with those committing them being communicated with in an instructive rather than punitive fashion. Facilities must implement intercession programs that make it easier to note and discuss mistakes without undue fear of reprisals.

Inculcating such a culture will result in increased error reporting, say researchers. In turn, that will bring about corrections and improved patient safety, which is the ultimate goal.

Source: NBC News, “When docs make mistakes, should colleagues tell? Yes, report says,” JoNel Allecia, Oct. 30, 2013