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How the US news media made patient safety a priority

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 27 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1044

Until journalists “remembered” patient safety, it was an issue that society and the profession had largely forgotten. Studies began to appear regularly in the medical literature after the second world war. Two of the most comprehensive, those of Don Harper Mills (Western Journal of Medicine 1978;128:360-5), which was based on records of California hospitals from 1974, and the Harvard Medical Practice Study (New England Journal of Medicine 1991;324:370-6), which was based on records of New York State hospitals from 1984, reached similar conclusions about the enormous clinical magnitude of the problem. Neither study, however, led to any substantial change in actual practice.

Then, in early 1995, a seeming epidemic of errors, including wrong-site surgery and medication errors, erupted among US hospitals. High profile mistakes garnered intense coverage ranging from tabloid TV shows to the Wall Street Journal. The most prominent incident was the revelation by the Boston Globe that its 39 year old health …

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