Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., costing some 250,000 lives per year, according to an article in the BMJ.
Ever since the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine estimated, in 1999, that up to 98,000 Americans died of medical errors, such numbers have been trumpeted and recycled in the press, states AAPS executive director Jane Orient, M.D.
“The original figures were based on a couple of small studies, and the results were extrapolated to the whole country. Nobody can point to that many individual casualties—the number is a statistic, a guess,” she stated. “Every patient was in the hospital for some reason. We know that a patient died, and, in somebody’s opinion, a medical error occurred. Would the patient have lived but for the error? That’s a big assumption.”
Notably, the estimates keep getting scarier, despite the vast “patient safety” movement, she observes.
Clearly, diagnoses are missed or delayed, the wrong drugs may be given, or the right drug in the wrong dose. Additionally, patients may die of known, inevitable side effects of error-free adherence to “best practices.” They’re not counted in these estimates, Dr. Orient notes.
The real question is what to do to improve medical practice. “There is a danger that this crisis will be the pretext for still more bureaucracy, regulations, checklists, and reporting.”
It is likely that badly designed electronic medical records and bureaucratic demands cause a lot of errors by distracting the staff’s attention and forcing them to check boxes instead of answering call buttons or observing the patient, AAPS suggests. “What patients need is doctors and nurses who care about them and are free to exercise their best judgment. They need less interference from remote administrative and government offices, not more. They need people who help them get out of bed, not more people with clipboards or electronic devices.”
The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) is a national organization representing physicians in all specialties, founded in 1943 to preserve private medicine and the patient-physician relationship.