I had previously reported that medical errors kill up to 98,000 Americans each year, based on statistics published in the Institute of Medicine’s 2000 publication “To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System.” A May 2014 report published in Consumer Reports estimates that the number of deaths from medical mistakes may be four times that number, as high as 440,000 deaths each year. Extrapolating these statistics out to Ohio, about 16,103 wrongful deaths should occur in Ohio this year from medical negligence.
In addition to deaths, there are countless injuries that occur. I have seen estimates that medical mistakes occur in as many as 1 of 3 hospitalizations. As a medical malpractice attorney, I am acutely aware of the tragic cases that arise out of medical neglect and carelessness. My clients have suffered everything from life-altering stroke, amputation, cardiac arrest (heart attack), delayed diagnosis resulting in worsened prognosis, pulmonary embolism, and wrongful death — all unnecessarily.
I have long questioned how this national epidemic can continue with virtual no media coverage, no public outcry and, worse, no changes to the healthcare system. I think that there are a number of reasons for the silence. One, physicians and hospitals have institutionalized a culture of cover up. Mistakes are hidden by peer review laws that protect investigative findings from disclosure. Patients cannot stay away from dangerous doctors or hospitals when their complication rates are kept secret. Instead, patients are left with national rankings that tout the quality of hospitals based on industry-driven criteria. When did you ever hear about a hospital’s shortcomings?
Two, medical errors are good for business. Doctors and hospitals profit from their mistakes by providing additional treatment. If healthcare providers were punished by not being able to bill for service that arise out of a mistake, they would be more vigilant. The civil justice system provides little disincentive to shoddy care since only 1 in 10 medical malpractice cases results in a recovery for the injured patient. This is a result of manipulation of public opinion and archaic legal standards that make it exceedingly difficult to hold healthcare providers accountable in a court of law.
Third, profiteering puts patients at increasing risk. Hospitals, in their endless quest to dominate market share, are continually building facilities and engaging in extensive marketing to capture patients. At the same time, they are cutting staff which is critical to safe practice. Pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers have jumped in with both feet, promoting drugs and technology that is dangerous and poorly tested and regulated.
Finally, there is little oversight of the healthcare industry. When the FAA began regulating the airline industry, airplane crashes were reduced to a rarity. But the equivalent of four 747s full of malpractice victims crashes every day in the U.S., yet few regulatory efforts have been undertaken.