When health care kills

Photo credit:New York Daily News

Medical mistakes are a leading cause of death in America. What’s changed in the last 15 years since a major study found that 100,000 patients died each year in hospitals from mistakes that were preventable?

That’s the subject of a Daily News column by its Washington bureau chief James Warren, who makes the point that if you also add up the number of people who die from mistakes occurring outside the hospital, that figure grows to about 440,000 a year.
He quotes Dr. Adish Jha of the Harvard School of Public Health, who expresses his concerns: “We’ve not moved the needle in any demonstrable way. We are not substantially better off than we were.” And as Jha just testified before a U.S. Senate hearing on health care last week: “Until we get to the point where a hospital CEO is lying awake worrying about patient safety, we won’t meaningfully move the needle.”

That Senate hearing chaired by Bernie Sanders of Vermont was called: “More than 1,000 preventable deaths a day is too many: The need to improve patient safety.” But as Joanne Disch, an expert from the University of Minnesota said during her testimony: “More than 1,000 preventable deaths–and 10,000 preventable serious complications a day–is too many. I would respectfully suggest that the title of this hearing understates the problem.”

Common medical mistakes that are preventable, yet end up costing lives include misdiagnosing the problem in the first place, prescribing the wrong medications, surgical errors and medical staff contributing to life threatening infections by not properly washing their hands.

Dr. Peter Pronovost of John Hopkins University created a checklist of protocols to be followed in intensive care units to effectively reduce the risk of infections. But how do you know that the hospital you are admitted to is practicing them? Dr. Pronovost points out that while there are advocacy groups for different diseases, there aren’t any influential ones exclusively devoted to patient safety.

How concerned are you about medical mistakes?

NY Daily News, 7/20/14

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