Medical Malpractice Third Leading Cause of Death
The insurance industry would have the public believe that plaintiff's attorneys' file frivolous lawsuits that threaten health care in our country. A recent study shows this is not true. In fact, the opposite of true. Medical malpractice kills hundreds of thousands of patients every year, and only a fraction of those deaths result in a lawsuit.
The study shows that “medical errors” are tragically common and now are the third-leading cause of death in the United States — claiming 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s. This equiates to nearly 700 deaths a day — about 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States. Only heart disease and cancer kill more.
These errors cut lives short and deprive many patients of the opportunity recover from their illness and live their lives fully. These errors range from medication errors (potent drugs given to the wrong patient), and surgeons removing the wrong body parts, to communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another. All of the these errors were preventable and resulted in the patient dying from the negligent care they received, rather than the disease or injury for which they sought care.
The health care industry has known about this problems for nearly two decades and has failed to take effective action. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a report calling preventable medical errors an “epidemic”. The IOM, based on one study, estimated deaths because of medical errors as high as 98,000 a year. Correcting the errors should have been among the health care industries highest priorities. Unfortunately, twenty years later, it appears the epidemic has gotten worse.
The biggest hurdle in addressing this epidemic may be very basic - acknowledging and openly addressing the problem. When medical error causes a death, the event (if it is investigated at all) is investigated by the institution were the error occurred. As many families and patients injured by medical errors have experienced, hospitals and doctors rarely admit the error and usually deny any problem. If they do investigate, the investigation is confidential and never released to the public.
Compare this to the aviation industry. When a plane crashes, the airline does not control the investigation, and the investigation is not confidential. The results are open to the public so that other airlines learn from the mistake and the public has confidence that the process has been improved. The medical community needs to embrace this transparent and scientific approach. Until they do, more unnecessary death and injuries will occur from medical negligence.