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Medical Malpractice is an International Issue

Medical malpractice is not just an American problem. Serious medical errors including surgical errors happen all over the world. The severity and frequency of these errors depend in part on the medical resources of a country, but they also depend on the regulatory framework and what sort of process a country has for holding negligent medical professionals accountable for their actions.

Serious Surgical Errors Exposed

The South China Morning Post reports that five cases of surgical instruments being left inside patients have been reported in Hong Kong, as have six other serious medical errors. Each of these errors occurred in public hospitals during the first quarter of 2015. One case involved a fourteen-inch feeding tube being left inside a patient’s abdomen. It had to be removed through a colonoscopy. Another case involved a piece of gauze being left in a patient’s vagina.

Leaving tools or instruments inside a patient is what is referred to in the medical community as a “never event.” That means that it is the sort of event that should never happen if proper procedures are being followed. In addition to these surgical errors, the hospitals also reported 21 medication errors during the same quarter. Five of these errors included the misidentification of patients.

Why Does International Medical Malpractice Matter?

Obviously there is the basic human reason that this matters, that any person from anywhere suffering at the hands of a doctor he or she trusts is horrific. But there are also very practical concerns for Americans as well. FIrst off, as the economy becomes more global more and more Americans are traveling internationally both for business and pleasure. Since medical emergencies cannot be planned, any international traveler could find him or herself at the mercy of another medical system. But there is another issue of planned foreign medical care, called “medical tourism.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 750,000 US residents travel abroad each year for the purpose of obtaining medical care. Some do this because medical care is cheaper. This may be a necessity in your situation, but if it is something you are considering it is extremely important that you investigate what recourse, if any, you will have if something goes wrong with your foreign medical care. The CDC lists some particular issues you should be concerned about if you are considering medical tourism.

These include:

1) Communication may be an issue. Think about how difficult American doctors can be to understand, and add a language barrier and different cultural norms and etiquette to that mix.

2) Even if you are relatively fluent in the language of the country you are traveling to, you may not understand very technical medical vocabulary. Doctors in other countries may not have the same sanitation practices which could lead to the spread of serious diseases, particularly if needles are reused.

3) Medication may be counterfeit in some countries.

4) Antibiotic resistant bacteria may be more prevalent in other countries.

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