The most widely quoted statistic on medical malpractice comes from a Center for Disease and Control report. In a landmark study the group found that over 90,000 patients die in the country every single year because of preventable medical errors. This stat understandably shocks most who hear it for the first time. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers know that most residents appreciate that mistakes happen, but they do not truly understand how widespread the problem is in some locations and situations.
There is always some disbelief when people first hear that statistic. If the problem truly were that bad we would hear more about it, wouldn’t we? Unfortunately, a lot less is heard about this problem because many cases of mistreatment or accidental death are never actually brought to light. Many patients pass away because of preventable medical errors without their family ever knowing for sure what happened to them. In this way the problem is able to stay below the surface. Comprehensive studies pinpoint the scope of the issue but individual families remain mostly in the dark about the overall level of care that their loved one received.
Part of the problem, according to a new NPR report, is that there are far fewer autopsies performed these days than in the past. In the past, these autopsies-known as “medical audits”-were commonplace occurrences that helped medical providers learn about causes and death and make potential corrections down the road. Not all that long ago autopsies were routinely performed on at least half of all patients who died in hospitals.
The best available evidence suggests that less than five percent of all those who die in hospitals have an autopsy performed. Many experts believe the steep decline is a troubling trend. The main problem is that without an autopsy, causes of death on death certificates are often inaccurate. These inaccuracies have ramifications-distorting crucial nationwide databases. Studies show that diagnostic errors are made in about 20 to 25% of cases. However, those errors are often never uncovered when a patient dies without an autopsy. The mistake is usually buried with them, forgotten, and not used as a learning experience to prevent future medical errors.
For example, the article shares the story of one woman who died suddenly at the age of sixty four. The woman was a college professor and cancer researcher. It was only thanks to the generosity of her colleagues that an autopsy was paid for and conducted after her passing. The procedure revealed that the woman’s body was riddled with cancer that she had previously known nothing about. Her husband explained, “Not knowing, to me, has always been worse than knowing the truth, and we know the truth…as the result of an autopsy.”
Honest information about medical care and death is vital to providing families with closure and helping medical providers make corrections for the future. Each Chicago medical malpractice attorney at our firm believes in the power of clear and honest information being collected and provided about the medical process. These principles cannot be forgotten by those in a position to make decisions about death investigations across the country.
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