The Ebola epidemic is stoppable — if health professionals use procedures that are known to be effective in quelling such outbreaks, and by widening the international response to Ebola in West Africa, according to Atul Gawande.

Writing in The New Yorker on October 3, 2014 — two days after the first Ebola patient in the U.S. was diagnosed in a Dallas hospital — Gawande, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard School of Public Health, called it “disturbing” that the patient had been sent home from that same hospital a week earlier. Although the fact that the patient had traveled from Liberia had been flagged in a screening checklist, that information had not been fully communicated throughout the care team.

“The hospital’s initial mistake is hardly unusual in our health system,” Gawande wrote. “Failures to communicate critical information … remain among the most common causes of major medical error everywhere.” Gawande said flagging patients’ medical charts with crucial information isn’t enough; such information has to be confirmed verbally as well.

Beyond using screening checklists effectively, isolating Ebola patients, and finding and monitoring those they’ve come into contact with, stopping this Ebola epidemic “is going to require dealing with the reservoir of disease multiplying in West Africa,” Gawande wrote.

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