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CHICAGO – The Anesthesia Patient Safety Foundation (APSF), an organization affiliated with the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), released a statement on the criminalization of medical errors with a call to action to all healthcare systems and organizations to establish comprehensive mechanisms to mitigate the risk of future errors.

APSF, founded in 1985, is the first organization created to focus solely on patient safety. For more than 35 years, the APSF has played an important role in reducing the harms of anesthesia and advocating for perioperative patient safety.

“We are deeply saddened and concerned by every adverse event that results in harm to a patient during any aspect of health care delivery, especially when the causes are preventable,” said Daniel J. Cole, MD, FASA, former president of the ASA and current APSF. President. “We offer our deepest condolences to all of the patients and their loved ones who have been harmed by preventable adverse events.”

The criminalization of medical errors, as in the recent prosecution and conviction of a nurse in Tennessee “is counterproductive to the continued prevention of harm to future patients and healthcare professionals,” the statement said. APSF. He advocates “systemic changes that will improve the culture of health care safety and reject acceptance of the ‘normalization of deviance’ that allows unsafe medical practices.” Here are examples of these changes:

  • Use pre-filled syringes when possible;
  • Use of barcode/RFID technology to withdraw medication from an automated dispensing cabinet (ADC);
  • Develop a multidisciplinary drug safety committee that meets regularly to assess all safety threats in the healthcare system;
  • Create a culture, reflected in the policy, where all providers have a defined mechanism for reporting near-misses and medication errors and are encouraged to speak up without fear of reprisal and to make concrete changes when threats to patient safety are observed.

The statement calls on “all health care systems, professional societies, medical professionals and appropriate government agencies to take strong and collaborative action to create and continually improve systems of care so that such mistakes are nearly impossible.” “.

The statement argues that “criminal prosecutions provide no comprehensive mechanism to explore the underlying causes of patient harm, including policy failures, implementation barriers, or the impact of human factors in mitigating the risk of future error”.

The recent case of criminalization of medical errors “significantly illustrates how serious errors and adverse outcomes continue to occur and that there does not yet appear to be a safe and just national culture among health care institutions that promotes reporting poor systems of care, near misses or errors to prevent future errors and patient harm. For this reason, the APSF urges that cases like this never be prosecuted by prosecutors, who should have the best interests of patients and society at heart.

The statement also addresses:

  • When it may be appropriate to sue healthcare professionals for errors
  • What healthcare organizations need to do to prevent errors and recognize those that do occur
  • What Healthcare Professionals Can/Should Do to Address Medication Errors and Lack of Monitoring, and Improve an Organization’s Safety Culture
  • What APSF will do if a perioperative professional is wrongfully sued for a mistake
  • What the APSF will do to promote patient safety following events such as this recent case

Founded in 1905, the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) is a teaching, research, and scientific society with more than 55,000 members organized to raise and maintain the standards of the medical practice of anesthesiology. The ASA is committed to ensuring that physician anesthesiologists assess and supervise patients’ medical care before, during, and after surgery to provide the highest quality and safest care that every patient deserves.

For more information about the field of anesthesiology, visit the American Society of Anesthesiologists online at To learn more about the role physician anesthesiologists play in ensuring patient safety, visit Like ASA on Facebook and follow ASALifeline on Twitter.


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