Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Patient safety lagging

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Manitoba, as with the rest of Canada, generally compares well in an international review of quality of health care. But there are notable weaknesses, and one of them is in patient safety. The report prepared by the Canadian Institute of Health Information, comparing OECD countries, is useful for context in the discussion of medical error, which arose in the wake of a recent rash of tragic incidents involving ER patients.

CIHI selected a number of indicators -- either specific procedures and health conditions or events in the delivery of medical care -- that it could measure and compare in its analysis. Manitoba did well in vaccinating its elderly people for flu and management of diabetes and asthma to keep sufferers out of hospital. Cancer care services, too, generally showed well in the comparison, but in three of five areas measured to gauge patient safety, Manitoba showed poorly.

CIHI cautions that the patient safety comparison is relatively new, and it may be that Canada's reporting is better than others. But it is clear, the national centre for data collection said, there are issues to address. The number of surgical patients Manitoba hospitals discharged with foreign objects forgotten inside them, for example, was exceptionally high, and in Canada, only Quebec was worse. Trauma during childbirth -- typically vaginal tears -- also was high.

The failings in patient safety should be read in tandem with Canadians' self-reported views on their experiences in medical care. Comparatively, more Canadians felt they didn't have sufficient time with doctors or good understanding of what their doctors were advising. Also, they felt left out of the decisions being made in their care.

The findings on patient safety should not be dismissed, despite potential weaknesses in comparison. Manitoba spends more per capita than the Canadian average and significantly more than its peer countries in the OECD. It keeps patients longer in the hospital and has more acute care beds. Improving patient safety here does call for more but smarter spending and a recognition of the problems that can and must be fixed.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 27, 2014 A8

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