Bewitched, bothered, and bedeviled

Feb. 1, 2010

Our already-busy New Year has had every Devil-ish detail
of it splashed across not just entertainment TV but also scores of news
outlets and newspapers:

  • “Balloon Boy's” dad spent his first night of 90 in
    jail — a real reality show.
  • Mark McGwire finally admitted to steroid use after
    almost five years.
  • Tiger Woods' private life unravelled publicly in the
    blink of an eye.
  • Mariah Carey's explanation of her public inebriation
    became 24/7 news.
  • Kate Gosselin
    got new $7,000 hair extensions and a
    new TV show.
  • Simon Cowell is leaving “American Idol” for his own
    “X Factor.”

When the Devil is in the details, we get fed the
wrong kinds of details. Give me boring facts of any healthcare
topic over the Sheens' marriage-on-the-rocks, another Kardashian expos'e, or
pro-sports stars' indiscretions with guns and/or girls.

Did you know, for example, about The Joint Commission's
decision to negate the active patient-involvement step prior to blood sample
collection? Last month, MLO Editorial Advisory Board Member Dennis
Ernst wrote of his concerns about the lack of patient ID confirmation by a
patient or a third party; 74% of healthcare workers who responded to his
Center for Phlebotomy's survey admitted having found ID bracelets attached
to the wrong patient. A decade ago, attention to detail was needed to put a
stop to dreadful mistakes in hospitals when patients' IDs were somehow
switched or were incomplete. Only four years ago, a study at the West Los
Angeles VA Medical Center compared wristband identification errors for 712
hospitals. Phlebotomists checked patient wristbands on 2,463,727 occasions,
finding 67,289 errors. The researchers found 33,308 patient wristbands
missing entirely, 49.5% of errors; wristbands with incomplete data, 7.5%;
erroneous data, 8.6%; illegible data, 5.7%; and patients wearing wristbands
with another patient's ID info, 0.5% (

Did you hear, by chance, about Oswaldo Juarez? He has
XXDR-TB — a brand-new strain of TB and this country's first case of a
contagious, aggressive, extremely drug-resistant (XXDR) TB, so rare that
only a handful of people worldwide are thought to have had it. A Peruvian
here to study English, Juarez underwent three months of futile treatment in
a Florida hospital, then in December 2007, he was sent to A.G. Holley State
Hospital, the nation's last-standing TB quarantine sanitarium in Lantana,
FL, now managing new and virulent forms of TB. In July 2009, 19 months after
checking in, Juarez was released (,
having cost Florida taxpayers about $500,000.

Did you read that the ACLU, scientists, and cancer
patients sued the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Myriad Genetics
(a company holding patents to two human genes linked to breast and
ovarian cancer)? Civil libertarians argue the sort of patent granted to
Myriad could be used to slow medical advancements by limiting access to
crucial research tools and data. A complicated situation, but one
seemingly not important enough to garner front page news or prompt a TV
debate. Even the late author Michael Crichton wrote a 2007 commentary
), but his
remarks likely were overshadowed by a celebrity romance, scandal, or
red-carpet sideshow taking place that day.

News about patient ID confirmation, XXDR-TB and other strains of TB,
and gene patents affects all of us, yet these topics cannot compete when
put up against the 24/7 celebrity banter that passes as “news.” If
the Devil is in the details, we need to have a talk. He … or she
(?) … is, as usual, leading people down the wrong path.