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Eliminating US hospital medical errors

Sameer Kumar (Opus College of Business, University of St Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)
Marc Steinebach (Opus College of Business, University of St Thomas, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance

ISSN: 0952-6862

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




Healthcare costs in the USA have continued to rise steadily since the 1980s. Medical errors are one of the major causes of deaths and injuries of thousands of patients every year, contributing to soaring healthcare costs. The purpose of this study is to examine what has been done to deal with the medical‐error problem in the last two decades and present a closed‐loop mistake‐proof operation system for surgery processes that would likely eliminate preventable medical errors.


The design method used is a combination of creating a service blueprint, implementing the six sigma DMAIC cycle, developing cause‐and‐effect diagrams as well as devising poka‐yokes in order to develop a robust surgery operation process for a typical US hospital.


In the improve phase of the six sigma DMAIC cycle, a number of poka‐yoke techniques are introduced to prevent typical medical errors (identified through cause‐and‐effect diagrams) that may occur in surgery operation processes in US hospitals. It is the authors' assertion that implementing the new service blueprint along with the poka‐yokes, will likely result in the current medical error rate to significantly improve to the six‐sigma level. Additionally, designing as many redundancies as possible in the delivery of care will help reduce medical errors.

Practical implications

Primary healthcare providers should strongly consider investing in adequate doctor and nurse staffing, and improving their education related to the quality of service delivery to minimize clinical errors. This will lead to an increase in higher fixed costs, especially in the shorter time frame.


This paper focuses additional attention needed to make a sound technical and business case for implementing six sigma tools to eliminate medical errors that will enable hospital managers to increase their hospital's profitability in the long run and also ensure patient safety.



Kumar, S. and Steinebach, M. (2008), "Eliminating US hospital medical errors", International Journal of Health Care Quality Assurance, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 444-471.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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