When the media reports on what kills most Americans each year, there are the usual suspects-heart disease, cancer, and strokes. What is rarely mentioned is the fact that medical errors account for the sixth most deaths in the US each year. Perhaps, what’s more important than the ranking is that these deaths are considered preventable.
According to the American Association of Justice (AAJ), “Researchers at the Harvard School of Medicine have found that even today, about 18 percent of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their care and that many of those injuries are life-threatening, or even fatal. The Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that one in seven Medicare patients are injured during hospital stays and that adverse events during the course of care contribute to the deaths of 180,000 patients every year. Even errors that the government and private health insurers have classified as “never events,” events that should never happen in a hospital, are occurring at alarming rates. Recently the Joint Commission Center on Transforming Healthcare reported that as many as 40 wrong site, wrong side and wrong patient procedures happen every week in the U.S.8 Similarly, researchers in Colorado recently found that surgical “never” events, such as operating on the wrong patient or wrong site or performing the wrong procedure, are occurring all too frequently. Yet despite these numbers, the American public remains unaware of just how pervasive the problem is. Even though one in three Americans say that they or a family member has experienced a medical error, and one in five say that a medical error has caused either themselves or a family member serious health problems or death, surveys show that Americans vastly underestimate the extent of medical errors.” Just as we are informed about how to minimize the risk of heart disease, cancer, and strokes, we need to be just as informed about preventable medical errors. Our best weapon in fighting this public scourge is information and a proactive plan if we need medical care or hospitalization. We must take charge of our safety, especially given the overwhelming evidence that the government and healthcare industry haven’t done so.