Medical Practitioners are Alerted That Patient Deaths Caused by Medical Errors Are Out of Control

It is no secret that thousands of American patients die or are permanently and seriously injured by medical providers. More than 250,000 Americans die in hospitals every year due to medical errors. That staggering number makes deaths in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and long-term care centers the third most common cause of death in the United States. The number of Americans who die because of the negligent errors made by medical providers is higher than those who die because of respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the causes of the deaths are not isolated to one common medical practice area.

The Johns Hopkins research involves a comprehensive analysis of four large studies. According to a report a year ago by the Washington Post, the Johns Hopkins report took into account studies from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality between 2000 to 2008. The calculation of 251,000 deaths in a year amounts to nearly 700 deaths a day — about 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States.

The deaths that have been associated with medical errors come in all kinds of settings. There are many cases of a nurse giving the wrong medication to the wrong patient. There are many other deaths that can be traced to poor or non-existent communication between the attending physician, nurses and technicians.

It was in 1999 that the Institute of Medicine report  called preventable medical errors an “epidemic.” That report shocked the medical establishment. Then the Institute of Medicine reported that 98,000 Americans were dying each year because of medical errors.

One of the many concerned and active participants is Kenneth Sands, who directs health-care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School. Last year Sands said the surprising thing about medical errors is the limited change that has taken place since the Institute of Medicine report came out. Only hospital-acquired infections have shown improvement. “The overall numbers haven’t changed, and that’s discouraging and alarming,” he said.

Sands also said, “There has just been a higher degree of tolerance for variability in practice than you would see in other industries.” When passengers get on a plane, there’s a standard way attendants move around, talk to them and prepare them for flight, Sands said, yet such standardization isn’t seen at hospitals. That makes it tricky to figure out where errors are occurring and how to fix them. The government should work with institutions to try to find ways improve on this situation, he said.

The  Institute of Medicine report also used an airplane reference in describing how hospitals should approach errors. Compare what the Federal Aviation Administration does in its accident investigations to the very uneven studies that can be found on medical errors around the country.

It was reported that an incredibly high percentage of surgeries result in drug-related errors and thus serious injuries or deaths to those patients; 50% of surgeries include drug-related errors.

The medical profession has noticed. There have been many published articles, even white papers, on the reality of medical errors and deaths in America. The goals must include the sharp reduction of medical errors. The method for catching dangerous practices must include system designs that actually identify errors in the making. Medical errors are very often preventable because they are observable and thus the terrible results are predictable.

There is no easy or uniform answer to solve this very serious and ongoing crisis in medicine. The health insurance business makes medicine even harder. Doctors and hospitals too often are concerned about how and what the payments will be for providing medical care for patients. One of the most common failings is the lack of or the adoption of a standard system that communicates with each medical provider. There also should be systems to measure and prevent adverse consequences. With the introduction and widely used electronic medical record (EMR) system, the communications are still disparate. There are too many varying health care software systems in use. The drop down options on these programs are not comprehensive and many do not allow different and more accurate entries.

There should be a movement to test all existing systems to ensure that they actually catch medical errors in the making. Uniformity of systems would seem to help with this epidemic of medical errors, which has not improved in recent years.

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling medical malpractice lawsuits, birth trauma injury cases, nursing home injury cases, pharmaceutical defect injury cases and wrongful death cases for individuals and families who have injured, harmed or died because of medical errors for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas including Niles, Prospect Heights, Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Morton Grove, Lincolnwood, Rosemont, Chicago (Wicker Park, South Shore, Pilsen, Logan Square) and Oak Lawn, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling medical malpractice cases, nursing home abuse cases, wrongful death cases and traumatic brain injury matters for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including River Forest, Lake Forest, Park Forest, Forest Park, Crestwood, Calumet City, South Holland, Barrington, Inverness, Naperville, Elgin, Joliet, Hickory Hills, Summit, Chicago (Rogers Park, Irving Park, Jefferson Park, Andersonville, Albany Park, South Shore, East Side), Schaumburg, Schiller Park, Sauk Village, Countryside and Libertyville, Ill.

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