With so much focus on patient safety and quality care over the last several years, why do thousands of people die every year due to medical errors?
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine¹ published “To Err Is Human,” which reported that an estimated 98,000 people die every year due to avoidable medical errors. This began a patient safety movement that is still a long way from where it should be. In fact, we seem to be going in the wrong direction.
It seems that every time a study is conducted, the numbers become more alarming. A new study, developed by John T. James (Chief Scientist of Space Toxicology, NASAJohnsonSpaceCenter) who runs the advocacy organization, Patient Safety America, shows the estimate to be at least 210,000. The actual number may be upward of 400,000 premature deaths per year as a result of preventable harm to patients. It is a huge concern that no one really knows for how many preventative deaths happen for these reasons, each year. There has never been an actual count of how many patients experience preventable harm, partially because of inaccuracies in medical records and the reluctance/refusal of some providers to report mistakes.
Although there has been considerable attention given in recent years to methods of eliminating medical errors and enhancing patient safety, far too many patients are being harmed due to medical errors. This epidemic must be taken more seriously if it is to be curtailed.
When it comes to preventing medical errors, hospitals everywhere face a major dilemma. Everyone agrees that reporting problems is the first step to preventing others from happening, but few put that belief into practice and submit error reports when something goes wrong. Some of the most common errors are:
- failure to implement a standardized checklist for common procedures
- failure to completely evaluate a patient’s medical history
- failure to conduct a physical exam and/or perform the necessary tests
- failure to record a complete summary of treatment
- lack of patient care coordination and teamwork
While estimates bring awareness and research dollars to a major public health problem that persists despite decades of improvement efforts, reducing preventable medical errors should be a concern to everyone. Reporting problems is the first step to preventing others from happening, but few put that belief into practice and submit error reports when something goes wrong. We can only fix a system if we acknowledge what is wrong. A process as simple as standardized checklists for common procedures can be enough to minimize the risk of bad judgment.
By identifying the root problem, we not only reduce medical errors, but also reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits. In fact, these concerns will be addressed under the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. Obamacare was introduced with the very notion of not only reducing costs for the system, but improving the quality of care. A big part of the savings will come from reducing medical errors because the system will feature national reporting. The Obama Administration says the initiative will bring together leaders of major hospitals, employers, physicians, nurses, and patient advocates along with state and federal governments in a shared effort to improve the quality of care and patient safety, reduce costs, and eliminate preventable errors. Yet, those same politicians who support anti-patient measures like “tort reform” are now seeking the repeal the pro-patient Affordable Care Act.
Obamacare already passed by both houses of Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) creates a new Patient’s Bill of Rights that protects you, the people. It will provide you with more health insurance choices and better access to care. In the end, public pressure may be the means to stop this ridiculous deadlock in Congress. The time to act is now! Despite what Congress might think, you are ultimately the decision makers by way of your vote. Voice your opinion; that is how things change. If not, we will all pay the consequences.
¹ The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is an independent, nonprofit organization that works outside of government to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to the nation concerning health. Established in 1970, the IOM is the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, which was chartered under President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Nearly 150 years later, the National Academy of Sciences has expanded into what is collectively known as the National Academies, which comprises the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Research Council, and the IOM.
Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice, Public Citizen, the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.