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Military hospital network plagued by chronic, avoidable errors, newspaper reports

| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 8:03 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The military hospital system, which cares for the 1.6 million active-duty service members and their families, is rife with chronic yet avoidable errors and is subject to only sporadic scrutiny, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

The newspaper said it found during a major investigation that the military hospital network, which is separate from the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs system, had a particularly bad track record in the areas of maternity care and surgery.

“More than 50,000 babies are born at military hospitals each year, and they are twice as likely to be injured during delivery as newborns nationwide, the most recent statistics show,” the paper said.

It said its examination concluded that “the military lags behind many civilian hospital systems in protecting patients from harm.” The review is based on Pentagon studies, court records, analyses of thousands of pages of data, and interviews with current and former military health officials and workers.

“The most common errors are strikingly prosaic — the unread file, the unheeded distress call, the doctor on one floor not talking to the doctor on another,” the paper said.

It quoted examples of “never events,” so-called because they are so grave yet preventable.

“A viable fetus died after a surgeon operated on the wrong part of the mother's body,” the paper said.

“A 41-year-old woman's healthy thyroid gland was removed because someone else's biopsy result had been recorded on her chart. A 54-year-old retired officer suffered acute kidney failure and permanent hearing loss after an incorrect dose of chemotherapy,” it cited as other examples.

The Times quoted Defense officials as saying military hospitals deliver treatment that is as good, if not better, than civilian hospitals.

“We strive to be a perfect system, but we are not a perfect system, and we know it,” the paper quoted Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of Defense for health affairs, as saying. “We must learn from our mistakes and take corrective actions to prevent them from reoccurring.”

The Times said records showed that mandated safety investigations often went undone, that less than half of reported unexpected death inquiries were forwarded to the Pentagon's patient safety center, and that cases involving permanent harm often remained unexamined.

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