At the end of last year, we wrote a blog drawing attention to the devastating number of American lives that are being lost yearly as a result of hospital mistakes. While the numbers were truly staggering, data from the Journal of Patient Safety clearly shows the situation is getting worse, as deaths from medical malpractice continue to rise.
Our earlier post, “How Many Americans Die from Hospital Mistakes,” noted the study’s author estimated about 210,000 deaths per year being caused as a result of medical mistakes or errors in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. These estimates were based on a series of studies conducted in which serious adverse events were observed in almost 21 percent of cases, and fatal events in 1.4 percent.
The reality is that these numbers are possibly double what was previously thought, and four times what the numbers estimated back in 1999 in the “To Err is Human” report which delivered a shocking blow to the medical community at the time.
Medical Errors and Patient Harm
According to a Journal of Patient Safety study, medical errors cause more inadvertent patient harm and unintentional deaths in hospitals than was previously recognized. While doctors are entrusted to protect patients from harm by correctly diagnosing symptoms, and making sure they receive the accepted standard of medical care and treatment, these statistics indicate medical negligence is still having a negative impact on far too many patients:
- Each year, up to 440,000 deaths can be attributed to preventable hospital errors, injuries, accidents and infections.
- Out of all the patients who seek treatment in hospitals every year, approximately one in 25 will develop an infection or contract an illness while in the hospital. These are infections and illnesses which didn’t need to happen, but which often have serious or fatal consequences.
- Hospitalized Medicare patients have a 25 percent chance of being subjected to medical negligence leading to injury, harm or death.
- More than 1,000 each day will die due to a preventable hospital mistake.
How You Can Help Prevent Medical Errors
While the number of preventable injuries and deaths that occur in U.S. hospitals each year is frightening, it should never discourage you from seeking medical treatment. If you are sick, experiencing adverse medical symptoms or have sustained an injury, seek the help of a medical professional at once. Tell your doctor what is happening and communicate clearly about what is going wrong.
Many misdiagnoses, medical errors and mistakes could have been prevented had the patients, and the treating doctors engaged in an in-depth, thorough conversation. You can help to prevent medical errors by:
- Providing your doctor with all pertinent health information such as allergies and other health issues.
- Bringing a family member or friend with you to appointments to help make sure you get your questions answered.
- Speaking up when you have questions about your care or do not understand what is being said.
- Making sure your doctor is aware of all medications you are currently taking.
- Insisting that your doctor or surgeon coordinate before any treatment is begun.
- Politely asking if hospital staff have washed their hands, and if not, asking they do so to minimize the spread of germs.
- Talking with your surgeon before surgery to make sure you both agree on what is to be done.
- Reading and understanding the directions on any medications you have been prescribed.
Above all, you can minimize your risk of being injured, harmed or killed due to medical negligence by never making an assumption. Do not assume your doctor knows about your allergies, the medication you are taking is listed in your medical records, the surgeon has the right patient file and that the correct procedure will be performed. Ask questions. It is also important to get a second opinion if you are concerned about a health issue. Verify the information and play an active role in your own treatment and health care.
- Journal of Patient Safety: A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care