Back in the year 2000, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published data revealing the shocking reality that doctors and medical errors were directly responsible for more than 225,000 deaths each year. Later in 2013, another study in the Journal of Patient Safety confirmed these statistics with even more dramatic figures, this time linking as many as 440,000 lives lost each year as a result of preventable adverse events (PAEs) in inpatient and outpatient healthcare settings. Even the most conservative estimate from the 2013 study estimated PAEs are responsible for 210,000 annual deaths, making medial errors the third leading cause of death in the nation, with only cancer and heart disease claiming a greater number of lives each year. Errors range from diagnostic mistakes to patients receiving the wrong medication and reflect the nation’s poor ranking with other developed nations in regards to overall wellness of the population.
High Figures Which are Likely Underestimated
Even at the low end of the scale, the number of estimated deaths resulting from PAEs each year is shockingly high. The authors of the Journal of Patient Safety study conclude that the true number of deaths related to PAEs each year is likely to be much higher (up to 440,000), owing to the fact that medical records and death certificates frequently do not reflect an accurate picture of the events that ensued prior to the patient’s demise. Additionally, if statistics are expanded to include patients who are seriously harmed (rather than killed) by a medical error, we discover that as many as 40,000 people are negatively impacted every single day by a mistake made in a hospital or outpatient care center. Experts postulate this excessive number of PAEs is in large part due to high production demands present in most medical facilities today.
Medical Errors Take Numerous Forms
Within hospital settings, PAEs are classified into five different categories:
- Diagnostic errors – When a healthcare provider fails to accurately diagnose a patient’s condition, a diagnostic error has occurred. Such errors often result in delayed or improper treatments; unnecessary surgeries are typically the result of a diagnostic error and are the direct cause of 12,000 deaths each year.
- Errors involving communication – If two medical providers or a provider and the patient fail to properly communicate, an error of communication results. The failure to relay critical information may result in death or a serious health implication for the patient.
- Errors of commission – When an improper medical action is taken (or if the action was poorly or improperly performed), an error of commission is said to have occurred. These types of PAEs are the easiest to spot on a medical record.
- Errors related to omission – Slightly more difficult to detect within medical records are errors of omission, when a medical care provider fails to conduct an important treatment or procedure, resulting in harm to the patient.
- Contextual errors – Physicians or other healthcare providers who overestimate the ability of a patient to follow instructions and/or maintain access to any medically required items are committing a contextual medical error. Such errors often involve patients who suffer from a physical or mental disability.
Certain Populations at Greater Risk
Numerous studies have shown that the elderly and pediatric populations are at greater risk for medical errors. As many as 19 percent of all seniors are said to become victims of PAEs, particularly if they are lower income individuals or have a disability. Common errors include being given an incorrect medication (which may result in an allergic reaction and/or adverse reaction with another prescription medication the patient is already taking) and receipt of one or more treatments which creates a larger problem than the aliment it was originally intended to correct. Children are highly vulnerable when they do not have a watchful parent or guardian present during every medical interaction, being unable to ask questions or voice concerns regarding medications and/or procedures which are provided.
Healthcare in America Ranks Poorly Among Developed Nations
Considering the above statistics, it is not surprising that America ranks poorly with other developed nations in regards to healthcare as a whole. When 13 first world nations were evaluated for life expectancy, infant mortality (neonatal and post neonatal) and low birth weights, the U.S. ranked 10th or lower in every category. In another analysis conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. healthcare system ranked 15th among 25 developed nations throughout the world. These poor statistics are not the result of lack of technology, as America boasts more MRI and computed tomography scanning units (per millions of people) than any other nation in the world, save for Japan. Fewer Americans indulge in poor health habits such as smoking and excessive drinking when compared to the rest of the world, eliminating the hypothesis that certain lifestyle choices are responsible for their poor health as a whole.
Patients Must Begin Questioning Medical Care Providers
Clearly, the number of medical errors resulting in patient death or harm must be addressed if the U.S. is ever to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of wellness. Patients must learn to become their own medical advocates, asking questions and communicating clearly before submitting to any medical procedure. In situations where a patient cannot speak for themselves, a caring family member should be present at all times to fill this important role. If you or a loved one has been harmed as a result of a medical error, you may be eligible for financial compensation. Contact a qualified attorney to increase your chances of receiving a fair settlement that includes compensation for any pain and suffering you may have experienced.