Experts Emphasize Gravity of Medical Mistakes to Senate Panel

Preventable Medical Errors Identified as Third Leading Cause of Death

When you seek medical care in a hospital, are you at serious risk of sustaining a catastrophic injury? According to a recent article in Insurance News Net, preventable medical errors that occur in hospitals are actually the third leading cause of death in our country. Indeed, “only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans.” Medical mistakes are a very serious and widespread issue in hospitals across the U.S., and many individuals would like the government to step in to help combat deaths resulting from medical negligence.

The Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging heard reports and testimony from a number of medical experts about the state of medical errors in hospitals. The Senate panel occurred on the heels of a new study in the Journal of Patient Safety, which suggests that the number of patient deaths from medical errors is significantly higher than previously believed.

Back in 1999, a famous study from the Institute of Medicine, entitled “To Err is Human,” reported that nearly 100,000 people die every year in hospitals because of preventable medical mistakes. The recently published study suggests that figure does not even come close to the real number of annual deaths, which is closer to 450,000.

Dr. Peter Pronovost, a physician at Johns Hopkins University, told the Senate panel that we have made some progress over the last decades. However, many patients still suffer serious and fatal injuries because of medical negligence. “We need to declare right now,” he said, “that preventable harm is unacceptable and work to prevent all types of harm.” Similarly, Dr. Ashish Jha from the Harvard School of Public Health emphasized the fact that America’s high spending on health care “is not buying us particularly safe care.” The U.S. spends more on health care than most other countries, but it is ranked only “average” in terms of preventable deaths.

Medical Error Statistics

Are the statistics in the recent report true? Could nearly 450,000 people really die each year in hospitals across the country because of medical negligence? Research backs up the findings from the Journal of Patient Safety report. For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services predicted in 2010 that about 180,000 Medicare patients alone die in hospitals from preventable injuries. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that every year about 700,000 hospital patients contract an infection simply from being in the hospital. Of those patients with infections, approximately 75,000 pass away.

At the same time, however, it is important to know more than just these numbers. Patients need to know the types of medical mistakes which may result in serious and fatal injuries. According to the Institute of Medicine, hospital patients suffer from some of the following illnesses and injuries due to medical negligence:

  • Infections;
  • Preventable blood clots;
  • Falls;
  • Diagnostic errors;
  • Overexposure to radiation; and
  • Adverse drug events and medication errors.

Diagnostic errors and medication errors also result in thousands of patients sustaining injuries outside the hospital setting each year. Diagnostic errors, according to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, are one of the most common causes of medical malpractice claims in our country. Such mistakes involve a diagnosis that is either missed, wrong, or delayed.

If you or a loved one sustained serious or fatal injuries while receiving medical treatment, it is important to speak to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer about your case.

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