I have mentioned in past post about the work my father does in a hospital in upstate NY. His job is to make the processes as close to perfect as possible and to eliminate as many mistakes and simply bad practices as humanly possible. Based on the following article, it seems his services are badly needed everywhere in the US.
Healthcare: America’s Leading Cause of Death
(originally published on 10/11/04)
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a groundbreaking report on a largely unrecognized affliction amongst hospital patients: Doctors. The study estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 hospitalized Americans die every year as a result of errors made by treating physicians–including improper drug administration, surgery conducted on the wrong part of the body, and even mistaken patient identities. Addressing the current state of medical treatment, the investigators wrote: “The status quo is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated anymore.”
They had no idea.
It turns out that the study’s estimate of yearly casualties from medical errors–numbers already higher than those for annual deaths from car accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS–may only be the tip of iceberg. A report last year from the non-profit Nutrition Institute of America estimated that conventional medicine in fact kills over 780,000 Americans per year. That makes healthcare the #1 cause of death in our country.
How do doctors’ errors add up to such staggering numbers? One major factor is misuse of drugs, including cases where meds are given in the wrong amounts, at the wrong times, or in lethal combination with each other. One study in 2002 found that hospitals average 40 drug-dosing errors per day. The Nutrition Institute study estimates annual deaths from these mix-ups at 106,000. Another 88,000 fatalities are thought to be caused by treatment-resistant bacteria that result from the over-prescription of antibiotics, another common form of drug misuse.
Surgery is also an area where mistakes regularly kill. To begin with, the Nutrition Institute says, about 17% of surgical procedures are unnecessary, which translates to 7.5 million Americans going under the knife without good reason, and over 37,000 of such patients dying from complications. One Spanish study pegged the percentage of unnecessary surgeries even higher-- about 20 to 25%. Surgeries conducted on the wrong part of the body are not uncommon, a high-profile example being Willie King, a Florida diabetic who had the wrong leg amputated. Even after surgery, patients aren’t safe: the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 500,000 surgical wounds become infected. And a report in the Chicago Tribune showed that in 2000, 103,000 patients died from infections they contracted while in the hospital.
More stunning, however, was the observation that nearly 75% of these fatalities could have been prevented, in many cases by measures as simple as doctors washing their hands and instruments. The Tribune uncovered thousands of cases where surgeons were observed operating without scrubbing up or wearing masks, sometimes in dusty, fly-infested operating rooms. Indeed, a recent, much-publicized New Scientist article noted that even doctors’ ties can cause infection, with a survey of ties from medical staffers at a New York hospital finding potentially deadly bacteria in almost half.
Even the above numbers, which are chilling, may not fully capture the amount of people dying needlessly. Numerous studies have estimated that only 5 to 20% of medical mistakes are ever reported, the rest simply being ignored or even covered up. The Institute of Medicine recognized this as one of the biggest barriers to making healthcare safer. Simply put, doctors are scared to admit they made an error, correctly fearing hefty malpractice suits. The Institute recommended creating confidentiality safeguards that would allow physicians to come forward when things go wrong, and work with healthcare officials in trying to make operations safer.
Most parties involved in these studies blame the entire medical system, rather than just “bad apple” doctors. Indeed, the Institute of Medicine report–tellingly titled “To Err is Human”–said, “Research reveals systematic, predictable organizational factors at work, not simply erratic individuals.” Many hospitals, it was noted, resist even basic attempts to safety-proof their operations. One article observed, for example, that numerous hospitals store drugs in concentrated form, meaning that they must be diluted prior to administration to prevent a lethal overdose. Heading off multiple fatalities would be as simple as diluting the drugs before they are stored, rather than waiting for this task to be done by a bleary-eyed doc or nurse at the end of their 12-hour shift.
What can you do to improve your personal odds of surviving medical treatment? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has produced a booklet of tips that, while largely common sense, are well worth reading, printing out and saving for a rainy day. Read it here: http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/20tips.htm.
Bottom line: studies have shown that people attribute a high level of trust to anyone wearing a doctor’s or nurse uniform. This attribution can lead to blind faith in a flawed system. As with so many things, you–or your family–need to be more forceful as advocates for your own healthcare. Your life may literally depend on it.
As the article clearly shows, what many of us have already come to know… many many many doctors don’t know WTF they are doing or sometimes why they are doing it. Everyone wants the answer to the healthcare problem and all our stupid politicians are looking at what government plan they can come up with to fix it. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A GAVERNMENT PLAN!!! many of our problems these days come from our waste as a society. Americans waste so much it’s not even funny, and it transfers to all aspects of our lives. You cant be a doctor and at home, waste as much as you want with little regard to the consequences, and then come to work, do a 180 and do things efficiently and perfect. Learning how to be efficient and not waste, should be a core class in schools from kindergaten till 12th grade. pound it into our younger generations so that when they take over perhaps they will finally be able to do it right.