Myth 15. Nationalized medicine will reduce medical errors, improve care, and save lives.


Based on 173 deaths in the Harvard Medical Practice study, and extrapolating to the entire U.S. population, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has been claiming for almost a decade that as many as 98,000 Americans are killed by medical errors every year.

Moreover, it is asserted that Americans have only about a 50/50 chance of receiving “proper health care.”

The proposed solution: electronic records with constant surveillance of compliance with government-approved protocols. The IOM claims that its methods could reduce errors by 50% over 5 years.

The IOM’s definition of error, the assumption that a death was a result of the error and would not have occurred anyway, and its guesstimate of the number of deaths all lack independent confirmation. The IOM number is three to seven times higher than a 1998 estimate by the National Safety Council.

Although the IOM analysis is uncritically accepted by the AMA and other influential bodies, there is no evidence at all that the proposed solution would result in any improvement in mortality or other patient outcome measurements. More likely results are:

  • Choice of therapies not embraced by mainstream medicine would be much curtailed. Nutritional approaches, long-term antibiotics for Lyme disease, chelation, hyperbaric oxygenation, acupuncture, prolotherapy, treatment for multiple chemical sensitivities, and other innovative, nonstandard, or “alternative” modalities could become unavailable.
  • Intensified oversight and rigid protocols might make physicians even less likely to provide adequate relief for chronic pain. National electronic databases of prescription drugs would facilitate stigmatizing patients who use controlled substances whether for pain or mental health reasons.
  • Patients’ freedom to decline “recommended” therapy—such as vaccines and psychotropic drugs—would be threatened as doctors feared being penalized as “outliers.”
  • “Recommended” therapy has possibly done more harm than medical errors, and more rapid and widespread adoption could amplify the harm resulting from a misdirected “guideline.” For example, more than 50,000 individuals are estimated to have died from encainide (Enkaid) and flecainide (Tambocor), used as directed to treat abnormal heart rhythms, before their adverse effects were recognized (Kilo CM, Larson EB. Exploring the harmful effects of health care. JAMA 2009;302:89-91). A trial of aggressive blood sugar control was stopped because the “common wisdom” was apparently wrong: more patients died from the “improved” treatment (Couzin J. Deaths in diabetes trial challenge a long-held theory. Science 2008;319:884-885).
  • Guidelines focused on cost control would deprive patients of newer, more effective drugs. Oncologist Karol Sikora states that thousands of premature deaths result from the British National Health Service’s restrictions on new drugs through its National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) (Union Leader 5/12/09).

Additional information:


  1. I don’t know how many people actually read the original 200-plus-page IOM report. I did. There were 45 references but they inly used 3 studies, all back in the 70s and 80s. One was done by librarians, another by administrative nurses and overseen by a medical student, and the third by clerical personnel, reviewed by two doctors. These deaths, dubiously attributede to errors, were then summarily extrapolated to the entire population and rushed to the headlines. Many people have detected this abrogation of scientific responsibility but only the original report has been touted. It’s a lot like the 46-million-uninsured myth which has been refuted but continues to circulate daily. Karl Rove’s analysis was definitive. Good luck.

  2. The control freaks are convinced that only they know how to live and it is their right and responsibility to control the ignorant incompetents, the vast majority of human beings. Their greetest fear is the free individual, the man left free to think for himself and decide for himself how to live in society with others and deal with them as a voluntary trader of values including the value of a healthy body and mind.

    America is the first and only nation founded on a moral principle, INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS. It is the principle that recognizes the human mind as man’s only means of knowledge and his means of survival. The mind must be free of the initiation of force in order to operate. America’s founders did their best to establish a country of individual rights. Capitalism is the system that insitutionalizes the principle of indivdual rights by banning the initiation of force from human affairs.

    A moral government has no business interferring in voluntary agreements between competent adults icluding medical care. Every adult individual is his own responsibility and children are the chosen obligations of their parents. We are not our brothers keepers.

    Discover and understand the principle of individual rights and demand that our government protect individual rights and nothing else. In every other respect leave us alone!

  3. One problem not mentioned is a misdiagnosis in which the patient is worked up on the record to sound and look like a diagnosis that is not correct. This results in an incorrect treatment protocol. This will not reflect in anyone’s statistics, electronic or paper. A misdiagnosis often remains as a permanent fixture to many patients.

    In my practice I see this happen often enough to throw the value of statistics like those reported by the mentioned study to the bottom of a cesspool.

  4. When committees and commissions establish guidelines and make therapeutic decisions and where patients are treated by civil servants as is the case in collectivist medicine, no one is really accountable for medical errors!