In 1999 the Institute of Medicine published its landmark study “To Err is Human” which estimated that medical errors cause up to 98,000 deaths per year. Now, Pro Publica reports on a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that more than doubles that estimate.
According to the evidence-based study between 210,000 and 440,000 patients die each year as a result of medical errors. This would make medical mistakes the third-leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer (all cancers combined).
I’d like to say that I’m shocked by this finding, but I’m not. Unfortunately, doing what I do every day I see the mistakes constantly. You would think that I see the bad medicine and not the good, but that isn’t entirely true. In fact, what I see most often is very good, even heroic, medicine every day. The care that is given to try to correct the mistakes made, usually by others, is often incredible. But the mistakes that set the patient down that path are often clear and infinitely preventable.
Attempts to shield doctors and hospitals from the effects of their mistakes, such as attempts to limit the damages that can be awarded in medical negligence lawsuits, are misplaced. Instead, the focus should be on eliminating the mistakes, through the implementation of processes and procedures to eliminate the most frequent errors. And true oversight by state regulators on physician licenses and hospital accreditation is also needed.
It makes sense that the focus should be on eliminating the problems and helping the victims of medical mistakes, not on shielding the negligent.