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Medical Errors Cause 200K Deaths Yearly

Medical Errors

According to a report released by the Hearst Corporation, an estimated 200 thousand Americans will die in 2009 not because of cancer or automobile accidents or heart diseases, but because of preventable medical errors and infections acquired while hospitalized. The report, “Dead by Mistake,” notes that the United States has a nearly nonexistent reporting system for medical errors, a system that doesn’t look like it’s going to change any time soon.

Currently in the United States, only 20 states have a mandatory reporting system for medical errors, yet, says the report, hospitals report only a tiny percentage of their errors, reporting standards are highly variable, and there is nearly no enforcement. Twenty states have no medical error report system; five have voluntary systems and five more are working on a reporting program.

The Institute of Medicine, which is part of the US National Academy of Sciences, released a report in 1999 entitled “To Err Is Human,” which, according to the Institute’s website, “lays out a comprehensive strategy by which government, health care providers, industry, and consumers can reduce preventable medical errors. Concluding that the know-how already exists to prevent many of these mistakes, the report sets as a minimum goal of 50 percent reduction in errors over the next five years.”

It is now ten years later, and medical errors are reportedly even greater than they were a decade ago. Why? According to the Hearst report, back in 1999 and 2000 President Bill Clinton attempted to create a mandatory reporting system for serious medical errors. His efforts were met with vigorous opposition by the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association.

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In fact, both organizations spent $81 million to lobby against such a medical error report system. They claimed that such a program would serve only to send medical error reporting underground. Instead, it appears that it drove something else - or should we say many someones - underground.

It is estimated that nearly 2 million people have died of avoidable medical errors and hospital-acquired infections since 1999. If the goals proposed back in 1999 had even been met partially, many of those deaths likely would not have occurred. Yet ten years later we still have no mandatory reporting system for medical errors, and the Obama administration does not support one.

Are medical errors so hard to prevent? Some of the factors believed to be responsible for medical errors include:

* Illegible handwriting on prescriptions and orders
* Sleep deprived health-care practitioners
* Lack of communication between patients and their doctors
* Poor nurse-to-patient ratios
* Poor documentation, which can include incomplete or unavailable medical records, lack of dosing instructions for patients, lack of monitoring of medication use, etc.

CBS Report 8/10/09
Hearst Corporation report, “Dead by Mistake”
Institutes of Medicine report, “To Err is Human”