Medical Errors Cause of 200,000 Hospital Deaths Each Year
March 2, 2010
By David Gutierrez
According to “Dead By Mistake,” a report detailing the findings of an investigation by the Hearst Corporation, approximately 200,000 people die in the United States every year from hospital infections and preventable medical errors. To make matters worse, the situation has not changed from 10 years ago, when the recommendations of a similar report by the federal government went ignored.
Car accidents, often classified as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, kill fewer than 50,000 people per year.
“Ten years ago, the highly-publicized federal report, ‘To Err Is Human,’ highlighted the alarming death toll from preventable medical injuries and called on the medical community to cut it in half in five years,” the new report says. “Its authors and patient safety advocates believed that its release would spur a revolution in patient safety. But … the federal government and most states have made little or no progress in improving patient safety through accountability mechanisms or other measures.”
According to “Dead By Mistake,” only 20 states require that medical errors be reported, and even among these, standards vary widely and enforcement is inconsistent. Five states are implementing mandatory reporting systems, five have voluntary systems, and 20 have no error reporting systems at all.
The Hearst report accuses lobbyists of working to ensure that the 1999 report’s recommendation of a nationwide mandatory error reporting system was never implemented.
Common medical errors include prescription errors and surgeries or other procedures conducted on the wrong organ or the wrong side of the body. Common causes of medical errors include sleep deprivation by care providers, poor patient-doctor communication, insufficient nurses, poor documentation and illegible handwriting.
The report recommends that patients look after their own safety by becoming better informed about procedures and medications they are being given, which includes actively asking questions of health care providers. Specific measures, such as having a doctor mark the site of an operation in permanent marker, can also decrease the risk of certain errors.