How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us

The above is the headline from the September 21, 2012 issue of the Wall Street Journal, and highlights the enormity of the problem of hospital mistakes. The article reports that according to a previous report by the Institutes of Medicine, 98,000 deaths occur each year due to medial errors in hospitals.

Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and author of the WSJ article starts off by comparing medical mistakes to aviation accidents. “When there is a plane crash in the U.S., even a minor one, it makes headlines. There is a thorough federal investigation, and the tragedy often yields important lessons for the aviation industry. Pilots and airlines thus learn how to do their jobs more safely.”

Dr. Makary then notes that the medical community is not subject to the same scrutiny, “The world of American medicine is far deadlier: Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.”

One of the other problems that prevents an open discussion of medical errors that Dr. Makary discusses in the WSJ article is the “gag order”. He writes, ” Increasingly, patients checking in to see doctors are being asked to sign a gag order, promising never to say anything negative about their physician online or elsewhere. In addition, if you are the victim of a medical mistake, hospital lawyers will make never speaking publicly about your injury a condition of any settlement.”

In a related article from a Medical News Today article dated August 9, 2012, the headline reads, “In Hospital Deaths from Medical Errors at 195,000 per Year”. The MNT article starts by reporting that according to a new study by HealthGrades of 37 million patient records, an average of 195,000 people in the USA died due to preventable, in-hospital medical errors in each year.

The MNT article cites the HealthGrades study to show that the original 98,000 deaths per year figure by the Institutes of Medicine, was far short of the actual number of hospital deaths due to error. “The HealthGrades study shows that the IOM report may have underestimated the number of deaths due to medical errors, and, moreover, that there is little evidence that patient safety has improved in the last five years,” said Dr. Samantha Collier, HealthGrades’ vice president of medical affairs. She continued, “The equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people are dying each year due to likely preventable, in-hospital medical errors, making this one of the leading killers in the U.S.”.

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