This recent study showing that preventable deaths in hospitals may be far higher than previously expected is shocking. Perhaps if Texas citizens had this information ten years ago we would not have passed a constitutional amendment that, for all practical purposes, makes doctors and hospitals almost immune from medical malpractice claims.
The study was detailed in an article in Forbes. Here are the opening paragraphs:
In 1999, Americans learned that 98,000 people were dying every year from preventable errors in hospitals. That came from a widely touted analysis by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) called To Err Is Human. This was the “Silent Spring” of the health care world, grabbing headlines for revealing a serious and deadly problem that required policy and action.
As it turns out, those were the good old days.
According to a new study just out from the prestigious Journal of Patient Safety, four times as many people die from preventable medical errors than we thought, as many as 440,000 a year.
Back in the old days, the IOM experts had very little concrete information to use in estimating the extent of killer errors in hospitals. But with innovations in research techniques led by Dr. David Classen, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and others, we now have more tools to tell us where the bodies are buried.
With these latest revelations, medical errors now claim the spot as the third leading cause of death in the United States, dwarfing auto accidents, diabetes and everything else besides Cancer and heart disease. Harvard’s Dr. Lucian Leape, the father of the patient safety movement and one of the experts behind the original IOM report, says the numbers in this new study should supplant the IOM estimates from 1999. That means hospitals are killing off the equivalent of the entire population of Atlanta one year, Miami the next, then moving to Oakland, and on and on.
These people are not dying from the illnesses that caused them to seek hospital care in the first place. They are dying from mishaps that hospitals could have prevented. What do these errors look like? The sponge left inside the surgical patient, prompting weeks of mysterious, agonizing abdominal pain before the infection overcomes bodily functions. The medication injected into a baby’s IV at a dose calculated for a 200 pound man. The excruciating infection from contaminated equipment used at the bedside. Sadly, over a thousand people a day are dying from these kinds of mistakes.