“Medical errors kill enough people to fill four jumbo jets a week.”
This statement was made in an insightful piece from the Wall Street Journal which looks at relatively simple ways to reduce these tragedies from occurring.
People go to the hospital when we need serious medical care. However, we rarely think of the hospital as increasing our risks of death or causing further injury. But, unfortunately hospitals aren’t always providing healing—they are sometimes harming the people who seek out their treatment.
In general, hospital mistakes go unnoticed by the general public but certainly not by the people who are victimized. However, the problem is significant and affects many more people than the general public realizes.
The writer of the Wall Street Journal article, a doctor himself, says that he noticed just how prevalent the problem was when he first began studying at a Harvard teaching hospital. There he found that despite the fact that error-prone surgeons were well known by their colleagues for their high-risk practices, little was done to prevent these bumbling docs from wreaking havoc on their patients.
Surgeon Marty Makary writes, “Hospitals as a whole also tend to escape accountability, with excessive complication rates even at institutions that the public trusts as top-notch. Very few hospitals publish statistics on their performance….”
One of Makary’s recommendations is what he calls an “online dashboard,” designed to help patients choose a hospital that would be right for them—one that will improve their health rather than put them at increased rate of victimization. These dashboards would include things like infection rates, readmissions, and surgical complication rates. They would also include details on “never events” or medical mistakes that should never happen (but often do).
This form of public reporting would require a level of accountability not normally seen in hospitals. And if the dirty laundry is publicized for everyone to see, the hope is that hospitals will be more likely to shape up in order to gain patient confidence.
For example, in 1989 New York hospitals were first required to publish heart-surgery death rates. Those rates varied from 1 to 18%. And when the information was made public, those hospitals with higher death rates immediately took action to improve their standings.
Dr. Makary makes several other positive recommendations including safety culture scores and camera installations—topics we’ll be addressing here on the Baker & Gilchrist blog in coming weeks.