April 9, 2012

AARP Bulletin: Hospitals May Be Unsafe for the Sick

by Levin & Perconti

If one is sick or injured, the hospital would seem like the safest place for the person who be. Of course, if emergency treatment or special stabilizing procedures are needed, that is obviously true. However, our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers appreciate that there is a somewhat paradoxical issue that actually makes hospitals incredibly unsafe for certain sick community members. The paradox is the result of egregious medical errors and things like hospital-acquired infections which can pose serious risks to sick patients if not kept in checks.

The AARP recently released bulletin that touches on these basic issues. The article shares that story of one mother who knows both sides of the coin. Several years ago the mother looked on as an expert team of medical professionals worked feverishly to save her newborn baby. However, the same mother also watched as her three-year old son died following what she says were inadequate attempts by medical providers to deal with complications from tonsillectomy. One child’s life represents the life-saving potential of medical care while the death of her other represents the life-destroying possibilities of negligent care. Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm has worked with local families who have been unexpectedly forced to deal with the downsides of this medical care following harmful medical malpractice that should have been prevented.

The bulletin also reminded readers that not much has changed since the landmark 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine (“To Err is Human”) indicated that as many as 100,000 patients may die every year from medical errors. In fact, some are arguing that the medical mistake problem is simply getting larger and more complex. This is made harder to sort out in large part because most errors go unnoticed and hidden. A report this January indicated that the vast majorty—86%—of errors made my staff on Medicare patients were not reported. Obviously, tracking and correcting systematic errors can never occur if those errors are not reported. The hidden nature of the problem means that there has been shockingly little improvement in the last decade.

The new January study also included data that re-emphasizes the overall scope of the problem. Beyond a lack of proper reporting and accountability, these errors are not rare occurrences that most community members don’t have to worry about. Instead, they occur with alarming frequency. The study found that one in seven Medicare patients suffered some form of serious injury or long-term harm because of the care they received at the hospital. Slightly less than half of those serious injuries were preventable. Considering that there are 37 million people hospitalized each year, these stats indicate that two to two and a half million people are seriously hurt each year because of preventable medical errors.

The problem may even be more expansive. An important new research effort from Health Affairs journal recently took a look at patient charts in three large American hospitals. What they found was shocking. About one in three of those patients experienced some form of harm to the patient acquired at the hospital. In other words, in various ways one out of every three patients experienced harm after they arrived at the facility.

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