Whenever there’s a plane crash, the National Transportation Safety Board swoops into action, immediately sending in a team of highly trained investigators to determine what caused it and how to prevent similar crashes in the future.
But when a hospital patient dies from a preventable error, there’s no such outside agency to hold the hospital accountable and, more importantly, to determine what should be done to protect future patients from the same fate.
That’s the point made by a group of medical experts in an article recently published in the Journal of Patient Safety.
The issue of hospital-related preventable deaths came to the forefront last year, when Johns Hopkins School of Medicine published a study saying that 250,000 patients die each year from medical errors – making them the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
The article in the Journal of Public Safety estimates that the number is around 163,000 deaths per year. But it also points out that even if the number is just 25,000 — an estimate offered in yet another study published last year – that’s five potentially preventable deaths per year for every hospital in the U.S.
And that’s too many.
“In what other industry would such a record be tolerated, let alone defended?” wrote the article’s authors. “Would the airline industry and public ever tolerate even a single preventable airline crash? We can and must do better.”
The article’s authors also criticized the tendency of some in the medical community to diminish the seriousness of some deaths from medical errors because the patient was already very sick or near death.
“Medicine does not have the moral authority to discount or disregard days, weeks or months of life,” it says. To look at it another way, if 350 people died in a plane crash, but two had a terminal disease, the NTSB would not report that only 348 were really victims.
It is clear that the medical community needs to spend less time quibbling over the number of deaths from hospital-related medical errors and more time addressing the causes. Some of the most common causes of these deaths include bed ulcers, hospital-acquired infections, blood clots, surgical errors, medication errors and delayed diagnoses or misdiagnoses. Certainly many of these issues could be addressed if hospitals would establish better safety protocols, invest more in staff training and maintain proper staffing levels. As the article’s authors said, hospitals need to focus on creating a “culture of safety,” rather than a culture of cover up.
Until they do, individuals who are being treated in a hospital and their loved ones should absolutely feel like they can ask questions about any diagnoses, procedures or medications ordered by physicians. And if you feel a hospital’s negligence has caused you harm, a member of our Medical Malpractice Litigation Group can discuss your situation with you. Please contact us today!