As recently as last year, mainstream publications were reporting that deaths due to medical errors were around 100,000 per year. While this is a terrifying number, especially for anyone considering major medical treatment, it is false. All of these publications were relying on data published by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 – an article called “To Err Is Human,” which was itself based on medical data from 1984.
In 2010 the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services speculated that poor care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year. This prompted researchers at Patient Safety America to dig deeper.
“That’s the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year and killing everyone aboard,” -Author Joe Graedon
Naturally they found that data now 30 years out of date was wholly wrong about the disaster afflicting our national healthcare system. Here’s what they found:
“The true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year. Serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm.” (source: http://journals.lww.com/journalpatientsafety/Fulltext/2013/09000/A_New,_Evidence_based_Estimate_of_Patient_Harms.2.aspx)
It Gets Worse
Pharmacy professor and medical author Joe Graedon suggests that the death toll from medical mistakes is at least 500,000 Americans annually. “That’s the equivalent of three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year and killing everyone aboard,” he says.
Whether his numbers are accurate or the 400,000 is more correct, that makes medical mistakes the third leading cause of death in America, falling in just slightly behind only cancer and heart disease. In other words, fully one sixth of all deaths in America each year are due to medical mistakes.
Denial denial denial.
Writing for NPR, ProPublica reports asking the American Hospital Association about these new data. A spokesman at the AHA said the group has more confidence in the old estimates of 100,000 deaths. However prominent patient safety researchers, including the author of the original 1999 study, have reviewed the Patient Safety America study and say all findings and methods are credible.
“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”— Sophocles, Antigone
An additional concern in finding the actual number of deaths caused by medical mistakes is the reality that doctors simply don’t want to admit such a disastrous mistake. This means medical records are often incomplete or inaccurate, and that some health care providers are covering up mistakes.
Even in the face of such disastrous information, the American Hospital Association claims it will not attempt to come up with its own estimate or studies.
The Reality of Medical Mistakes
The reality is that mistakes will always be a part of medical care and there are some patients who are simply going to die whether there’s a mistake or not, but there is a standard of care which health care providers should meet. The first step on the path to fixing the medical community is identifying and measuring the problem. They will need to come to terms with this statistic if they are ever to improve it.
Taking care of yourself
When it comes to your own health, you may be able to prevent some of the mistakes by talking with your doctor. Ask questions such as these:
- How confident are you of this diagnosis?
- Are there any additional tests that can further confirm this diagnosis?
- Are there any symptoms which don’t fit this diagnosis?
- Are there any other explanations of what could cause these symptoms?
- It’s good to seek a second opinion as well. Get your medical records from your first doctor and provide them to another. Explain that you are double-checking the diagnosis and you would like to see if the new doctor agrees.
Sometimes things go wrong, despite your best efforts. Here are some signs that you’ve already been a victim of medical malpractice:
- Your condition isn’t improving.
- There are no further tests beyond the lab test.
- A common test was not performed.
- Your questions are ignored.
- Your diagnosis seems delayed.
- Health care providers fail to follow up.
- A provider asks you to keep a secret or threatens you.
If you wonder if you’ve been a victim of a medical mistake, it’s totally acceptable to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss the situation. It’s important to make sure health care providers are providing a standard of care which is reasonable. If you’re concerned, call Ingerman & Horwitz today to discuss your situation.