Last month, The BMJ Medical Journal published a study by Maria Panagioti on the prevalence, severity and nature of preventable patient harm. Panagioti’s findings were disturbing, and support theories that preventable medical mistakes have become the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Crunching the Numbers
Five percent of patients are harmed throughout the course of their medical care. Considering the general population of the United States, this translates to about 32 million people harmed. Of these 32 million people, approximately 12%, or 3.8 million, are killed or left permanently disabled by the preventable mistakes of medical professionals. This is not a small number.
Theoretical calculations aside, experts estimate that 200,000 to 400,000 U.S. Citizens die every year from preventable medical errors.
Panagioti’s study, which surveyed 337,025 patients, has found exact statistics that allow concrete insight into the problem as a whole. Of these 337,025 patients, 28,150 experienced harmful incidents; 15,419 of these incidents were entirely preventable. Additionally, 49% of the harms were considered mild, a comparable 36% of them were moderate, and 12% were severe.
Drugs and other therapies caused 49% of incidents, and injuries related to surgical procedures caused 23% of harms. Problems with diagnoses, and infections acquired through health care, each accounted for 16% of reports.
What the Numbers Reveal
The numbers not only show us that medical professionals can and should do better, they reveal exactly where problems arise. A medical professional should never prescribe drugs without considering both positive and negative ways the medication might affect a patient. We trust our doctors to prescribe us correct, safe, and beneficial drugs. If they fail to do so, they may be violating their standard of care to us and can be held responsible for negligence and/or charged with medical malpractice. Still, we can help ourselves and our medical professionals, who are human after all, avoid mistakes by being an active advocate for our own health. We should never take a medication without understanding what it does, what it looks like, and what the side effects may be. Asking questions is a great way to form a responsible relationship with your doctor and can help keep you both out of harm’s way.
Surgical errors account for another hefty portion of harms. Because patients are sometimes under anesthesia or recovering from traumatic amputations, it is much more difficult for them to advocate for themselves. The only way to solve this problem is for medical professionals to develop new procedures with more fail-safes and take extra care to prevent heinous mistakes – like leaving medical devices inside the body or performing the wrong surgical procedure.
A Long Way to Go
Experts are right when they say there’s no “silver bullet” or magical way to reduce medical errors. Upgrading patient and staff engagement, management and institutional systems, and even technology are processes that happen over time and can hopefully decrease medical mistakes, possibly ending them altogether in the future.
In the meantime, you are entitled to justice, and The Mellino Law Firm is here to help.
If you or a loved one have been harmed, disabled, or killed by a preventable medical error, call our medical malpractice attorneys today at (440) 333-3800 or request a free consultation online.