New data published in the Journal of Patient Safety suggests that previous estimates regarding the number of fatal medical mistakes are far too low. If the new estimates are accurate, medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in America, with only heart disease and cancer killing more Americans.
Our Boston medical malpractice lawyers know that there are many deaths and many more injuries each year because of medical errors. A medical mistake can be fatal for many different reasons and it is important for patients to understand the greatest risks so they can do everything possible to protect themselves from becoming a victim.
How Common is Death Due to Medical Mistake?
Estimates on the number of deaths resulting from medical mistakes vary greatly depending upon the data being reviewed. In 1999, an Institute of Medicine report estimated that 98,000 people die annually because of mistakes in hospitals. Although this estimate was initially disputed by the medical community, doctors, hospitals and the media have accepted the veracity of the data and have frequently cite this study.
In 2010, however, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services published data suggesting the 98,000 estimate is a very optimistic estimate. The Officer of the Inspector General indicated that sub-standard care in a hospital setting contributes to the death of 180,000 Medicare patients in a given year. Medicare patients make up only a percentage of the total hospital population, so the total number of deaths due to medical error would be much higher.
So how many deaths are there actually? The fact is that no one really knows. However, a recent study in the Journal of Patient Safety suggests that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients in the hospital every year suffer some kind of preventable harm that contributes to causing their death or that has fatal results.
A spokesman for the American Hospital Association disputes this estimate and, according to ProPublica, has indicated that the AHA has more confidence in the Institute of Medicine’s 98,000 number. However, three prominent patient safety researchers reviewed the study in the Journal of Patient Safety and found the methodology sound. This is very bad news for hospital patients who are at risk.
How Does Death Due to medical Mistake Happen?
Death as a result of a medical mistake can happen for many different reasons including:
- Dangers and complications due to unnecessary testing.
- Serious untreated medical conditions including cancer or heart-attack.
- Infection resulting from a surgical instrument being left inside a patient or from an unclean operating room.
- Botched surgical procedures or mistakes made in administering anesthesia.
These are just a few of many potential causes of death caused by mistakes doctors can make. Some, including the author of the newest study, suggest that there should be a national bill of rights for hospitalized patients to try to prevent these many fatalities. However, individual patients also need to know and understand their rights and the risks now.
If a hospital physician tries to send you home and you are convinced that something is wrong or that your diagnosis is not correct, don’t ever be afraid to question what the doctor is saying. It is better to speak up to ask for help and even to ask for another opinion than to potentially leave the hospital with a life-threatening condition such as an ongoing heart attack that goes untreated. The hospital is responsible for providing patient care and can be held liable if they provide substandard help, but patients also need to try to protect their own safety by doing everything they can to get their concerns heard.
If you or a loved one was injured by medical malpractice, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.
More Blog Entries:
New Study Sheds Light on Most Common Medical Malpractice Claims For Primary Care Physician, Boston Personal Injury Attorney Blog, July 26, 2013.