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Report shows VA investigating fewer medical errors even as errors increase

Veterans' Administration hospitals, as readers may have heard, do not have the greatest track record in terms of preventing medical errors. To be sure, medical errors can and do occur from time to time at every hospital, even in the absence of negligence. However, hospitals should continually be working on reducing preventable errors, since these can have a significant impact on the quality of care for patients and shouldn't be occurring in the first place.

For its part, the Department of Veterans Affairs, despite pressure to prevent medical errors, is actually getting worse in this area. A recent report by the Government Accountability Office related that the number of investigations for medical errors decreased 18 percent between 2010 to 2014, during which time medical errors increased seven percent.

The Veterans Administration has said that it isn't clear why fewer investigations of medical errors are being conducted, which is concerning in and of itself, since the VA should be working to keep track of both the incidence of medical errors and changes in the investigation of medical errors.

The types of medical errors the report was concerned with were preventable ones--ones which should not have occurred, given proper precautions. Such mistakes include things like failing to properly sterilize equipment, wrong-site surgery, or giving a patient the wrong dose of a medication. These types of mistakes can have a significant impact on a patient.

While patients in the civilian world have the ability to pursue medical malpractice litigation when they have been seriously harmed by medical error, patients who are harmed in a VA hospital have more limited ability to pursue damages for medical care. In our next post, we'll take a brief look at this issue. 

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