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Report Finds Hundreds of Preventable Medical Errors Kept Hidden

A recent Las Vegas Sun investigation has found that patients in nearby hospitals suffered 969 preventable injuries caused by medical error in the last two years alone. The exhaustive and first of its kind study revealed that preventable harms, deadly infections, and neglect occurred at a rate about one a day in some hospitals.

Dr. John Santa, Director of the Health Ratings Center for Consumer Reports, explained the repeated examples of medical malpractice by admitting, “These are events that no one can be proud of. They aren’t inevitable. They’re preventable. It just involves attention to detail and a willingness to change the culture.”

Preventable injuries caused by medical error include foreign objects being left in bodies after surgery, advanced pressure sores, bloodstream infections, and postoperative falls. The one thing each of these complications has in common is that they can almost always be completely eliminated if proper medical care is provided. For example, the Institute on Healthcare Improvement suggests that bedsores are almost always preventable and occur only when a patient is not given close enough supervision and attention. Central-line infections would also be virtually non-existent with closer monitoring and removal of catheters
It is is clear from the report that when a patient enters a hospital to get well and develops serious complications, a close look should be paid at the cause of the complication. All too often negligent medical care has contributed to the injury.

But the prevalence of medical malpractice is only half the story brought to light by this investigation. Just as disturbing as the prevalence of negligent care is the inadequate reporting of such events. The Sun’s investigation into hospital records showed that in many cases, hospitals failed to keep accurate records of these complications and injuries so that it is impossible to determine if they were caused by preventable medical error.

Currently no standardized public reporting methods exist, making it nearly impossible to compare preventable injuries at various hospitals to determine if widespread abuse persists in one medical facility over another. Both the Center for Disease Control and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services track these medical complications, but neither makes the list available to the public.

Widespread opposition still exists to allowing the information to become easily available to the public. Hospital lobbyists and legislators have gone back and forth on the legal requirements for reported preventable medical complications. The Las Vegas Assembly Speaker has noted that, “The hospitals have been resistant to change every step of the way.” Currently, only statewide totals are available, which are virtually useless to the public because they offer no means of comparison.

The benefits of open information are clear. Consumers are best able to choose their health service provider when made aware of the hospital’s performance with regard to preventable complications. Hospitals then would have even more incentive to ensure these hospital-acquired injuries are eliminated. Another motivator may be the loss of Medicare payments, as Medicare recently stopped reimbursing hospitals for treatment of injuries that developed in the hospital for preventable complications.

Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys at Levin & Perconti fully support all efforts to both reduce preventable medical complications and increase the availability of comparative information to all consumers. Sadly, however, as this report reveals, discovering the true cause of a loved one’s complication is daunting and nearly impossible process for some families to undertake. That is exactly why you should contact a medical malpractice attorney as soon as you suspect you or someone you know may have been the victim of a similar complication caused by hospital negligence. Time matters, so be sure not to wait until it is too late.

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