What Color Ribbon Do We Wear For That: Medical Errors Leap To Number Three Cause Of Death In Us
When I had surgery on my left wrist years ago, I remember the surgeon jovially chatting with me just before I was to be wheeled into the OR. He gave me the brief, cheerful “thumbs-up, here we go champ” type speech typical of these moments.
And he jokingly grabbed my wrist and said, “It is this one we’re operating on, yeah?”
I vaguely laughed along with him through the fog of the pre-anesthesia drugs I had already been dosed with, and he reassured me he knew what he was doing.
Well, it all went fine and I can still play guitar to this day, a minor miracle considering how jacked up the bones were. But it made me think, later on about how common medical mistakes of that kind are. Pre-surgery, people often write on the incorrect limb in Sharpie: “NO! WRONG LEG!”
Turns out that wasn’t just paranoia, nor is it confined to the operating theater. A new study on patient safety reveals a medical industry gone mad, resulting in a staggering figure:
Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States.
To put that in perspective, these mistakes claim the lives of over 250,000 people every year, more than respiratory disease, more than Alzheimer’s, more even than stroke.
Study lead Martin Makary of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine said the errors they looked at included everything from bad doctors to communication breakdowns to prescription mistakes to surgical mistakes.
“IT boils down to people dying from the care they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care,” he said.
Makary said he embarked on the study to illuminate a systemic problem that hospitals would prefer not to talk about. He and his team did a meta-analysis of four large studies that occurred over the course of eight years, from 200 to 2008. His calculation of 251,000 deaths equates to almost 700 deaths per day, a staggering 9.5 percent of all deaths in the US.
Naturally, healthcare providers and hospitals are quick to proclaim their records on patient safety and highlight the safety protocols they have in place. But not many provide specifics on actual cases of injury or death due to mistakes. Indeed, the CDC doesn’t require reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths through billing codes.
That is one concrete change that Makary sees as vital as a result of his study.
“We all know how common it is,” he said. “We also know how infrequently it is discussed.”
For now though, it would seem that the CDC’s advice is, don’t get sick.
And for god’s sake avoid the hospital at all costs.
Hopefully someday the agency will fulfill its function and actually provide patients the information they need to protect themselves from incompetent doctors and medical staff.