Are you safer on the highway or lying in a hospital bed?

You might be surprised – nearly 200,000 people a year die as a result of medical mistake, while only about 20% of that figure die in automobile accidents.
A comparison of statistics from several sources indicate that medical malpractice – an issue that has hardly made a splash in the health care debate – is a major problem. For firms that specialize in medical malpractice cases in Indiana, this news comes as no surprise.

Earlier this month, HealthGrades, a health care quality company that studies the medical industry, looked at 37 million American patient records from the years 2000-2002, and found that an average of 195,000 patients died due to potentially preventable in-hospital medical errors.

Half of those errors arose from hospital-acquired infections, and the other half from preventable mistakes, including safety issues within the hospitals, failure to diagnose post-operative infections, failure to recognize the degree of injury, failed or missed diagnoses, etc.

ekgEven though this number is far too high in and of itself, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s 2008 study, published in June, reports that 37,261 people died from car crashes last year (a statistic that is down almost 10% from 2007). This represents an almost 5 to 1 ratio concerning the number of people who die as a result of medical mistakes vs. automobile accidents.

The HealthGrades numbers are double the number from a 1999 Institute of Medicine study, which, even at that number, called medical malpractice an “epidemic”, and pegged the cost to the country then at $6 billion.

That study was supposed to spark a revolution in medical field accountability. Based on the most recent stats (which are a few years old, but are the best we can find at this point), there seems to be little – if any – reason to think that things have gotten better since 2003.

The IOM report made a number of suggestions for increasing patient safety that were only spottily and partially instituted. Among those suggestions that were only partially instituted were mandatory (or at least centralized) reporting of hospital deaths by mistake, creation of a national patient safety center, and the proposing that hospitals themselves could take further responsibility for patient safety. Several states do now require reporting certain preventable deaths and other non-lethal complications.

Since health care is now such a huge story, this may be the time to revitalize this discussion.

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