By Dr. Mercola
Hospitals are typically thought of as places where lives are saved, but statistics show they’re actually one of the most dangerous places you could possibly enter.1,2 Each day, more than 40,000 harmful and/or lethal medical errors occur, placing the patient in a worse situation than what they came in with.3
According to a 2013 study,4,5 preventable medical errors kill around 440,000 patients each year — more than 10 times the number of deaths caused by motor vehicle crashes. A 2016 study6 calculated the annual death toll to be around 250,000.
Medical Mistakes Are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the US
Either way, medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and have been since at least 2000, when the late Dr. Barbara Starfield published her shocking conclusion that doctors kill 225,000 patients each year. Her findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.7 Ironically, Starfield ended up a statistic herself.
She died suddenly in June 2011, a death her husband attributed to the adverse effects of the blood thinner Plavix taken in combination with aspirin.8 Her death certificate, however, makes no mention of this possibility. Indeed, one of the reasons why many are still surprised by these statistics is due to fundamental flaws in the tracking of medical errors, which has shielded the reality of the situation and kept it out of the public eye.
While there are codes that capture iatrogenic causes of death, published mortality statistics do not take them into account. They only look at the condition that led the individual to seek medical treatment in the first place. As a result, even if a doctor lists medical errors in the death certificate, they are not included in the CDC’s mortality statistics, and without that data, medical mistakes remain a largely hidden problem.
Once you’re hospitalized, you’re immediately at risk for medical errors, so one of the best safeguards is to have someone there with you. Dr. Andrew Saul has written an entire book on the issue of safeguarding your health while hospitalized. Frequently, you’re going to be relatively debilitated, especially post-op when you’re under the influence of anesthesia, and you won’t have the opportunity to see the types of processes that are going on. This is particularly important for pediatric patients and the elderly.
It’s important to have a personal advocate present to ask questions and take notes. For every medication given in the hospital, ask questions such as: “What is this medication? What is it for? What’s the dose?” Most people, doctors and nurses included, are more apt to go through that extra step of due diligence to make sure they’re getting it right if they know they’ll be questioned about it.
If someone you know is scheduled for surgery, you can print out the World Health Organization’s surgical safety checklist and implementation manual,20 which is part of the campaign “Safe Surgery Saves Lives.” The checklist can be downloaded free of charge here. If a loved one is in the hospital, print it out and bring it with you, as this can help you protect your family member or friend from preventable errors in care.
Sources and References
- 1 The Crux, This is one of the most dangerous places in America
- 2 New York Times January 26, 2016
- 3, 13 HealthGrades 2011 Healthcare Consumerism and Hospital Quality in America Report
- 4 Journal of Patient Safety 2013 Sep;9(3):122-8
- 5 NPR September 24, 2013
- 6 BMJ 2016;353:i2139
- 7 America’s Healthcare System is the Third Leading Cause of Death, Barbara Starfield, M.D. (2000)
- 8 Archives of Internal Medicine 2012;172(15):1174-1177
- 9 CDC.gov Health Care Associated Infections
- 10 New England Journal of Medicine 2014;370:1198-208
- 11 Consumer Reports, America’s Antibiotic Crisis
- 12 Continuing Education in Anaesthesia Critical Care & Pain February 1, 2005; 5(1): 14–17
- 14 Broadly.vice.com October 18, 2016
- 15 CertificationMatters.org
- 16 FSMB.org
- 17 Administrators in Medicine
- 18 Nursing Protocol for Removal of Central Venous Catheters
- 19 Standardized Procedure for Central Line Removal
- 20 WHO Checklist for Safe Surgery