An investigation by journalists working for the Hearst Corporation reports that 200,000 Americans will die this year from mistakes made by doctors and in hospitals.
The report issued today, “Dead By Mistake,” says medical mistakes can occur from illegible handwriting, sleep deprivation of the doctor, poor documentation and communication, improper nurse-to-patient ratios, wrong-side surgeries, misdiagnosis, and hospital infections, among other causes.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC) reports that 99,000 patients die a year from hospital-acquired infections such as MRSA, which is preventable.
The CDC is supposed to be tracking the nation’s deaths and diseases, but admits medical error is often not reported.
If medical errors and infections were tracked by the CDC, they would top the list of accidental deaths in the U.S., above car accidents, poisoning, firearms deaths and falls (90,000 deaths a year), reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one of the Hearst newspapers involved in the report.
The Hearst analysis worked with a nonprofit, Niagara Health Quality Coalition, an independent nonprofit located in Buffalo, New York.
It examined patient discharge data from 1,832 medical facilities in New York, Washington, California, and Texas. It looked at preventable deaths, incomplete reporting, and the secrecy involved in medical error deaths.
A decade ago the federal “To Err Is Human” report highlighted the preventable medical errors and blamed them for 98,000 American deaths a year. The report by the Institute of Medicine, called on the medical community to cut errors in half in five years.
Not only was a mandatory national reporting system never implemented, but no progress was made in improving patient safety through accountability. Hearst reporters talked to the authors of “To Err Is Human,” and found lack of leadership doomed improvements.
“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.
The American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association worked against attempts by President Bill Clinton to create a mandatory reporting system. The Center for Responsive Politics reports from 2000 to 2001 they spent $81 million on lobbying efforts.
Medical errors kill more people every year than car accidents and “More people die each month of preventable medical injuries than die in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,” said Phil Bronstein, editor of the project.
The report profiles more than 30 people who died or were injured while seeking medical care. Many continue to live in pain, paralysis, amputation and emotional distress. They range in age from newborn to 91.
“Dead By Mistake” concludes the problem could even be worse because 20 states have no medical error reporting system. Five states are developing reporting systems and five states allow hospitals and doctors to report voluntarily.
Of the 20 states that do require medical error reporting, standards vary wildly and there is nonexistent enforcement, such as in California.
Because of a lack of accountability and secrecy, as many as two million Americans have died from preventable medical mistakes, the report says.
17 states do make available to consumers adverse-event reports. New York State has run out of money for any reporting system, the report says, and its last adverse event report is four years old.
An interactive map provides the state-by-state snapshot of how your state is doing.
The Hearst report focuses on the problem. CBS News offers some recommendations on how to avoid becoming a victim of a medical error.
- Wrong-side/ Wrong Body Part Surgery – To avoid this common problem, surgeons should personally sign or initial the side of the body that is to be operated on and patients need to remind surgical personnel about the correct side before the procedure.
- Medical errors - Not only were medications that sound alike a problem (Heparin and Hespan), but dosage mistakes are common. Patients need to become vigilant to ask about every medication they are taking in the hospital and remind everyone of any allergies they have.
- Talk to Surgeon – CBS recommends you look the surgeon in the eye before an operation. Too often a doctor comes into the room after a person is sedated.
“Dead By Mistake” is a national investigation utilizing journalists from seven Heart newspaper properties, as well as Web and television journalists working for Hearst.
Trying to find new ways to reinvent news gathering struggling in its for-profit model, “Dead By Mistake” is the third Hearst investigative reporting initiative. #