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Thursday, February 3, 2011

What Everyone Should Know About Medical Mistakes

By Thomas Sheridan

Thomas Sheridan, founder of Sheridan & Murray, and respected Philadelphia personal injury lawyer discusses the facts about medical mistakes.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a seminal study titled “To Err Is Human”. This study concluded that as many as 98,000 people die in American hospitals each year as a result of medical mistakes that are preventable. Ninety-eight thousand deaths per year is a staggering statistic. More people are killed each year by medical mistakes than car accidents. Medical mistakes account for more deaths every year than breast cancer, and medical mistakes account for more deaths each year than AIDS. Simply stated, health care in the United States is not as safe as it should and must be.

Nevertheless, hospitals, doctors, and medical insurance companies continue to bombard the public with claims that tort reform is necessary to “fix the healthcare system in American.” The medical and insurance lobbies contend that frivolous lawsuits have driven up the cost of medicine in the United States and are a significant cause of increasing healthcare costs. This is simply not true. The real problem with the healthcare system in America is that patient safety is not paramount.

Hospitals and doctors have failed to take any significant action to improve patient safety in America. Among the common medical mistakes that are preventable are improper blood transfusions, surgical injuries, operating on the wrong part of the body, adverse drug events, falls, mistaken patient identities, and burns. Significant error rates are commonly found in intensive care units, operating rooms, and emergency departments.

In 2010, the Office of Inspector General of the US Department of Health and Human Services reported that 1 in 7 hospital patients experienced a medical error. Of these medical mistakes, 44% were preventable. These medical mistakes cost Medicare $4.4 billion each year. These Medicare cost estimates do not include the additional costs associated with follow up care following medical mistakes. This important study concluded that since most medical mistakes are preventable, the need and opportunity for hospitals to significantly reduce the incidence of mistakes is significant.

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