Sometimes numbers get so large that they lose all meaning. The human mind has a hard time grasping sizes on a certain scale, and it is easy to lump all figures into general categories (small, medium, large). That may be the case when it comes to the total number of people killed each and every year as a result of preventable medical malpractice.
In the past, figures like 100,000 were frequently used a shorthand estimate for the number of preventable yearly deaths. That figure alone is enormous, and it is hard to truly wrap one’s head around 100,000 different people with with their own with mothers, fathers, children, spouses, and friends.
But a new study finds that the 100K figure may be far too low–the real total might be 400% larger.
New Med Mal Death Report
Pro Publica released an article that took issue with the common med mal death estimates. The story pointed to new research published in the Journal of Patient Safety which found that the total premature death caused by inadequate medical care may be as high as 440,000 patients annually.
To reach this result, the academics conducted a literature review of the 4 most comprehensive prior studies examining the scope of this problem. As the researchers point out, accurately identifying when a death was caused by a medical error is notoriously difficult. Different facilities have different manners of reporting various incidents, and there is an inherent temptation to slightly skew reporting in order to avoid any appearance of error. However, in general, most projects examine medical records for sign of errors, like medication stop orders or abnormal laboratory results.
Taking all that into account, the researchers in this case explained that the actual number of patients who die prematurely because of preventable errors is likely over 400,000 annual.
The primary author argued that, ” The epidemic of patient harm in hospitals must be taken more seriously if it is to be curtailed. Fully engaging patients and their advocates during hospital care, systematically seeking the patients’ voice in identifying harms, transparent accountability for harm, and intentional correction of root causes of harm will be necessary to accomplish this goal.”
As the ProPublica story points out, with that data, medical malpractice would be the third leading cause of death in the United States–behind only heart disease and cancer.
Considering the explosive nature of these findings, some medical industry groups have already downplayed the results, reporting more confidence in the older number, like the 98,000 annual deaths estimated by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). Yet, even the primary author of that well known report from the IOM, “To Err is Human,’ reviewed the most recent study and voiced support for the 440,000 patient finding. Virtually all other patient safety experts who reviewed this recent effort similarly echoed support for ite methodology and results.
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