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40,000 Auto Accident Deaths; 200,000 Preventable Medical Error Deaths Every Year

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The numbers emerging from a recent investigation by Hearst Newspapers are absolutely staggering: nearly 200,000 Americans are dying every year from died from medical mistakes that could have been prevented, often using simple safety procedures.

Ten years ago, a highly publicized federal report [“To Err is Human”] called the death toll shocking and challenged the medical community to cut it in half — within five years.

Instead, federal analysts believe the rate of medical error is actually increasing.

A national investigation by Hearst Newspapers found that the medical community, the federal government and most states have overwhelmingly failed to take the effective steps outlined in the report a decade ago.

Consequently, over that period, as many as 2 million Americans have died needlessly of preventable medical mistakes.

The report sparked awareness of the problem’s scale. But…"We didn’t have any government efforts. We didn’t show leadership and take charge and do what needed to be done," said Dr. Lucian Leape, one of the authors of "To Err is Human," and who is considered the father of the modern patient safety movement. -Times Union

A large part of the reason that preventable errors are increasing is that there is no national mandatory reporting system for these kinds of errors. In the few states that do require reporting (and requirements differ from state to state, leaving patients with a spotty picture of what’s actually going on), enforcement is almost nonexistent. Doctors and hospitals have no incentives to report errors, and there’s evidence that they’re actually distort death certificates to avoid liability later on, should the deaths of their patients be questioned later by bereaved families.

Doctors fudge death certificates, leaving out information that would point to medical error as a cause of death, according to court records and other documents examined by Hearst reporters and graduate students at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The CDC — which is supposed to track the nation’s deaths and diseases — is aware of the inaccuracies in death certificates. -Times Union

Currently, a nationwide, mandatory reporting system for medical errors is not in the Obama administration’s plans for health care reform (ahem, “health insurance reform”). It needs to become a part of reform, so that hospitals can start addressing the atrocious and growing problem of death by preventable medical error in America. Doctor misrepresentation of the facts about their patients’ lives and deaths needs to stop immediately, for every American’s sake.

2 Comments

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  1. Jane Akre says:
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    Mike-

    And yet in the health reform discussion where is the outcry about preventable medical errors and defective medical devices and what that is costing all of us? This report certainly should change that conversation.

    I think you’ve got the lead right…..

  2. Mike Bryant says:
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    No doubt this message needs to get out. The numbers are staggering.