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Errors in rural hospitals

Errors in rural hospitals

Picture of Betsy  Cliff

I've been a health reporter for a number of years and, in the past few have focused increasingly on issues of cost and quality. I am still amazed at how opaque these issues are and how reluctant the medical community is to talk about them. Often, when I ask about quality I'm met with incredulity. How dare I question the medical care provided?

I'll be used my National Fellowship Grant to look at this issue again, specifically the rates of medical errors in rural hospitals. Medical errors kill somewhere around 100,000 people in the U.S. each year. Reporting up to this point has largely focused on error rates in general, or perhaps at one particularly egregious institution. But new data allows us to examine the rate of some medical errors for every area of the country. I'm particularly interested in error rates at rural hospitals for two reasons. First, it's where I live and report.

Second, in some ways, the stakes are higher in rural areas. My local hospital is the only large one within 100 miles. If it has a higher than average medical error rate, choosing to use a different facility is much more difficult than in a city with multiple hospitals. Residents here count on the local hospital to provide good quality care. I expect to encounter a lot of challenges. Physicians and hospitals don't like to talk about errors. The data are still scarce. But I feel that it's only by talking about what goes wrong in medical care that we can eventually begin to talk about how to make it more often go right.

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