"The Ronan Report" provides insight about the activities at the Western Maryland Health System in Cumberland, Maryland, and about the changes taking place in healthcare today from a CEO's perspective.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Medical Errors

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago and the presenter kept using the statistic that hospitals are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US.  I was dumbfounded. Really?  I couldn’t believe it so I immediately Googled it.

What the actual data says is that out of the ten leading causes of death, heart disease is #1 with almost 600,000 deaths each year, cancer is second with 575,000 deaths and chronic respiratory diseases at #3 with 138,000 deaths.  Strokes are at #4 and accidents with unintentional injuries are the fifth leading cause.  Was that where they were placing all of those hospital deaths? Under accidents?  But no mention of hospitals specifically. 

Then it hit me, medical errors account for anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 deaths per year according to a study that was done and published in the Journal of Patient Safety.  The 200,000 to 400,000 deaths put medical errors in hospitals as #3.   I haven’t read the study, but they couldn’t pin it down a little more accurately.  Are there medical errors? Of course, there are.  Do some result in deaths?  Yes.  But, with 4800 hospitals in the US, that would be 83 deaths per year attributable to medical errors in each hospital. 

I guess rather than quibble about the numbers, we should be focused on preventing the errors.  And as Dr. Marty Makary says in his book, “Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care,” start with eliminating variation in the practice of medicine and increase accountability throughout the hospital.  We are all focused on patient safety as our number one priority; now we have to step it up no matter what the numbers reflect.

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