How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. hospitals?

Two years ago, ProPublica, an independent nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism that is focused on the public interest, published an article by the same title. According to their research, in 1999 the Institute of Medicine published a report indicating that 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical mistakes made in hospitals. According to the same article, a subsequent investigation by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services reported that medical errors in hospitals contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients per year. Even more disturbing was a more recent study in the Journal of Patient Safety that reported that perhaps as many as between 210,000 and 440,000 patients suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death while in the hospital. The ProPublica investigative piece concluded that if these numbers are correct, that would make medical error the third-leading cause of death in America, with heart disease being number one and cancer being number two. See:ProPublica, September 19, 2013 by Marshall Allen.

So which of the estimates is correct? No one knows for certain, but one thing is abundantly clear: Too many people are being injured or killed as a result of medical error, and attention needs to be drawn to this to force hospitals to take a closer look at the quality of care that is being provided in their facilities so that these types of injuries and fatalities can be avoided.

Many people trust the physicians and nurses who treat them in hospitals implicitly and would never think to question the care that is being given, or not given, to them. Many people who report complaints to care providers that go ignored would similarly never think it appropriate to make themselves heard if they believe their care provider has concluded that what they have to say is not important. So what, if anything, should patients do to try to avoid becoming the victim of medical error?

Patients and their family members, friends or significant others need to be diligent in making sure that the channels of communication with care providers are clear.Most health care providers are conscientious and listen carefully so they can provide good care. However, not all of them do and not all of them are good listeners.Serious mistakes can often be made when good communication is not occurring.If you feel your complaints are not being addressed, or that you are not receiving relief for the condition that took you to the hospital in the first place, do not be passive about your own healthcare or the healthcare of your loved one.Speak up and be heard. Get a second opinion. Do not assume that your healthcare providers are infallible.

The myth that care providers do not make mistakes or, if they do they should not be held responsible for them, needs to be corrected.Care providers make mistakes just like everyone else and should be held responsible for those mistakes when they result in serious injury, harm or death to a patient.No one would ever believe that a driver who causes a car accident should not be held responsible for the harms resulting from that accident just because he didn’t mean to cause the crash. Similarly, even though doctors and nurses mean well and most try their best to provide good care, when medical errors occur, the fact that the healthcare provider didn’t intentionally make the mistake does not relieve them of the obligation they have to accept responsibility for the injuries and harms their mistakes caused.

Patients deserve good care and hospitals should be diligent in making sure that good care is provided and life-altering mistakes are avoided.When medical error does occur, however, the hospitals and healthcare providers responsible for the mistakes must to be held accountable.

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