Prop 46 does not prescribe the right remedy to cure healthcare errors says healthcare professor and author

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

Thumbnail for 9317San Ramon, CA, October, 2014. The third leading cause of death in the US  next to heart disease and cancer are medical errors in hospitals according to a study reported in a recent issue of the Journal of Patient Safety. Over 400,000 patients die annually, and these are preventable deaths!

Dr. Gwen van Servellen, healthcare professor, researcher, and author of “The Heatlhcare Handbook” points out that medical errors occur in hospitals primarily for following reasons:

  1. Misdiagnosis
  2. Unnecessary treatment
  3. Unnecessary tests and deadly procedures
  4. Medication mistakes
  5. Never events (shocking medical errors that should never occur, for example operating on the wrong side of the body or leaving an instrument inside the body)
  6. Uncoordinated care, especially at shift changes
  7. Infections transmitted from the hospital or hospital staff to the patient
  8. Not-so-accidental accidents e.g. a malfunctioning medical device
  9. Missed warning signs and by the time they are discovered by staff there may be irreversible damage
  10. Discharged home too fast

These problems are a function of all staff that is involved including doctors, nurses, aides, pharmacists, therapists, hospital administrators as well as misaligned procedures.  So it is not just doctors who make errors as California Prop 46 would lead you to believe. Although the estimates of drug and alcohol abuse among physicians is believed to be between 1 to 2 percent at any given time, there are no readily available statistics showing how many physicians have a problem with drugs or alcohol in California.

Proposition 46 proposes that physicians are tested for alcohol and drug use both regularly and within 12 hours after an unexpected patient death or injury at the hospital. But, “Shouldn’t we then test all staff involved in medical errors including nurses, aides, pharmacists, etc.?” asks Dr. van Servellen.  Doesn’t  sound very practical or possible.  Testing doctors is only one part of a larger, complex bill that appears to be added as a political sweetener.

To cure medical errors we need to look at the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of procedures and policies at the organizational level. And now more than ever, any individual going into the hospital needs to be educated as to what potential medical errors can exist and what steps they can take to insure a positive and healthy outcome from treatment.


Dr. Gwen van Servellen is the author of  “The Healthcare Handbook:  How to Avoid Medical Errors, Find the Best Doctors, Be Your Own Patient Advocate & Get the Most from Healthcare”. She is a UCLA Professor Emeritus with 35 years of experience evaluating patient care and has published numerous peer reviewed articles and books focused on achieving high quality healthcare.  Dr. van Servellen has also been a highly sought after consultant to hospitals, clinics, and universities worldwide.

Her website is: