Medical mistakes are the 3rd leading cause of death in the US killing between 250,000 to 440,000 people per year, placing it only behind heart disease and all cancers as a cause of death. According to this latest study of hospital errors published this week in BMJ by Johns Hopkins Surgeon Dr. Martin Makary 251,454 deaths occur each year as a result of medical errors.
Even scarier is that the they believe the number could be significantly higher because deaths at home and in nursing homes are not counted in this study — only hospital deaths.
Is this new information?
The medical system has known about these problems for a long time but in the beginning, doctors and hospitals seem to be in disbelief.
One of the first major studies, in 1999, estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year. The medical community was in shock. In a 2004 report of Medicare hospitalized patients by the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research Patient Safety Indicators estimated 195,000 deaths per year. US Department of Health and Human Services OIG reported in Nov 2010 that 180 000 deaths due to medical error just in the Medicare insured people.
Then, in a 2011 article in Health Affairs, titled “Adverse Events in Hospitals May be 10 Times Greater Than Previously Measured,” the authors proposed over 400,000 preventable deaths per year may be attributed to medical mistakes.
How to Prevent Medical Mistakes–What YOU Can Do
The US Dept of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of suggestions that are very help. Dr. Freedman of Evolve Medical adds, “It is really important that each patient take responsibility of their health care. Ask questions, be assertive and don’t be afraid of either hurting someone’s feelings or looking ‘stupid’. It’s your health and it’s your life.”
- Make sure that all of your doctors know about every medicine you are taking–including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbs.
- Bring all of your medicines and supplements to your doctor visits.
- Make sure your doctor knows about any allergies and adverse reactions you have had to medicines.
- When your doctor writes a prescription for you, make sure you can read it. Ideally, ask for electronic prescriptions to minimize this common mistake.
- Ask for information about your medicines in terms you can understand—both when your medicines are prescribed and when you get them:
- What is the medicine for?
- How am I supposed to take it and for how long?
- What side effects are likely? What do I do if they occur?
- Is this medicine safe to take with other medicines or dietary supplements I am taking?
- What food, drink, or activities should I avoid while taking this medicine?
- When you pick up your medicine from the pharmacy, ask: Is this the medicine that my doctor prescribed?
- If you have any questions about the directions on your medicine labels, ask.
- Ask your pharmacist for the best device to measure your liquid medicine.
- Many people use household teaspoons, which often do not hold a true teaspoon of liquid. Special devices, like marked syringes, help people measure the right dose.
- Ask for written information about the side effects your medicine could cause.
- If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands. Handwashing can prevent the spread of infections in hospitals.
- When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will follow at home.
- This includes learning about your new medicines, making sure you know when to schedule follow-up appointments, and finding out when you can get back to your regular activities.
- It is important to know whether or not you should keep taking the medicines you were taking before your hospital stay. Getting clear instructions may help prevent an unexpected return trip to the hospital.
- If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done.
- Having surgery at the wrong site is rare. But even once is too often. The good news is that wrong-site surgery is 100 percent preventable. Surgeons are expected to sign their initials directly on the site to be operated on before the surgery.
- If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need. Remember–the more frequently they do the surgery, the better job they will do. Ask!
- Speak up if you have questions or concerns. You have a right to question anyone who is involved with your care.
- Make sure that someone, such as your primary care doctor, coordinates your care. This is especially important if you have many health problems or are in the hospital.
- Make sure that all your doctors have your important health information.
- Do not assume that everyone has all the information they need.
- Ask a family member or friend to go to appointments with you. Even if you do not need help now, you might need it later.
- Know that “more” is not always better.
- It is a good idea to find out why a test or treatment is needed and how it can help you. You could be better off without it.
- If you have a test, NEVER assume that no news is good news.
- Ask how and when you will get the results.
- Learn about your condition and treatments by asking your doctor and nurse and by using other reliable sources.
- Treatment options based on the latest scientific evidence are available from the Effective Health Care Web site. Ask your doctor if your treatment is based on the latest evidence.
Is the System Corrupt?
Not at all. “Doctors are human and they are going to make mistakes, but the system shouldn’t continue to perpetuate them,” according to Dr. Martin Makary. “I think doctors and nurses and other medical professionals are the heroes of the patient safety movement and come up with creative innovations to fix the problems,” he said. “But they need the support from the system to solve these problems and to help us help improve the quality of care.”
Dr. Freedman states, “The system is terribly rushed and broken. Major changes are needed that may not occur for years to decades.” In fact, Dr. Freedman states that he founded Evolve Medical as a means to be able to spend the time and resources necessary to provide much more optimal care. “I would help my friends and family to minimize hospital and office related errors and I just felt that non-medical people should be entitled to the same great care.”
If you have any doubt or concerns about your care, call your primary care physician. Evolve Medical also reminds you they are happy to see you for a consultation by scheduling on-line here or calling 844-322-4222.