Ten Years After "To Err Is Human," Nurses and Patient Safety Experts Examine Progress in Reducing Medical Errors

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) groundbreaking To Err Is Human report found that as many as 98,000 people die each year from medical errors in hospitals, making medical errors a more common cause of death than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS. The report estimated that these errors cost the country nearly $38 billion each year. Ten years later, medical errors are still a widespread problem in the United States. More than 1.5 million people are sickened, injured or killed by medication errors each year. Some 1.7 million battle illnesses due to hospital acquired infections, and tens of thousands die. To commemorate the 10th anniversary, the blog of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF’s) Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) is hosting a series of posts from national health care leaders, nursing and patient safety researchers, health care bloggers, and advocates. They are offering their perspectives on how the report affected patient safety and quality improvement in hospitals and other health care settings.

The posts examine the role nurses can play in increasing hospital safety; the kinds of quality measures that have been successful over the past decade; how nursing and medicine have changed to adapt to a new environment; and how quality measures are reflected in health reform discussions. The series was launched on December 1, with an interview with INQRI co-directors Mary Naylor, Ph.D., F.A.A.N., R.N., and Mark Pauly, Ph.D., both of the University of Pennsylvania—and with Janet Corrigan, Ph.D., president of the National Quality Forum, who was a contributor to the IOM report.

Other contributors include Lori Melichar, Ph.D., of RWJF; Paul Levy, CEO and President of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who writes the blog Running a Hospital; Anne-Marie Audet, M.D., MSc., a vice president at the Commonwealth Fund, which co-funded the IOM report; INQRI grantees; and other quality leaders including Leah Binder, M.A., M.G.A., of the Leapfrog Group.

INQRI is the first national research project of its kind to produce evidence to show how nursing care can help prevent errors and improve care. The program, which is now in its fifth year, supports interdisciplinary teams of nurse scholars and scholars from other disciplines such as economics, pharmacology and social work to offer solutions designed to reduce medical errors and improve patient care.