Patients Beware: 1 out of 3 Subject To Hospital Error

Medical errors are one of the Nation’s leading causes of death and injury—the famed 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study, To Err Is Human, estimated that avoidable medical errors contributed to 44,000–98,000 deaths at US hospitals annually.  Using the lower estimate,this suggests that more people die from medical errors than from fatal car crashes, breast or pancreatic cancer, or HIV/AIDS.

In November 2010, The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General found that in  1 in 7 (13.5%) Medicare admissions experienced adverse events during their hospital stays. Further, for 1 in 70 Medicare admissions, the patient experienced an event that contributed to their deaths, which projects to 15,000 patients a month.  And that’s just Medicare!  (Sadly, Physician reviewers determined that over 40% were preventable. )

Also in November, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine NEJM reported on the first large study in a decade to analyze harm from medical care and to track it over time.  The study, conducted from 2002-2007 in 10 North Carolina hospitals, found that harm to patients was common and the number of incidents did not decrease over time.  The most common problems were complications from procedures or drugs and hospital-acquired infections.  The Harvard Medical School authors focused on North Carolina because its hospitals, compared with those in most states, have been more involved in programs to improve patient safety. [NYT Article]

So despite JAMA’s 2008 protest article suggesting that the medical error numbers were exaggerated, it appears that the situation is much worse than To Err is Human suggested. [Alternatively, an investigation by the Hearst media corporation, estimated preventable medical mistakes and infections to be responsible for about 200,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.]

The bottom line, patients have a basic expectation when they receive health care… that they will not be ‘harmed’ in the process…BUT hospitals can be dangerous.  Even good, hardworking people can (and do) make mistakes.  E-patients must be aware and engaged in everything that happens in the hospital. .. Your second set of eyes can make quite a difference. Continue reading