The leading causes of death in the United States are considered to be, for the most part, unavoidable: Heart Disease, Stroke, Cancer, Respiratory Disease, and Accidents including auto accidents and poisoning. There is, however, another silent killer on the rise which goes unreported in statistics—medical error and malpractice. Healthy individuals check into the hospital for routine surgery, don the hospital gown and expect to be released in a few days. For thousands every year, however, these routine surgeries send them to the grave.
Working as a Seattle wrongful death lawyer and Bellevue car accident attorney I realize how many lives are taken in auto accidents every year and understand why many are terrified of getting behind the wheel. There are 42,000 fatal auto accidents every year in the United States. This number, however, doesn’t even compare with the 200,000 fatal medical errors happening yearly in our hospitals.
There are quite a few different medical errors cutting unsuspecting lives short, a physicians unintentional drug overdose of a patient, operating on the wrong part of the body, cuts and tears to organs during operations, infections of the bloodstream, MRSA Infections, and tools or objects left inside the body after surgery. The overwhelming majority of these incidents are left alone- not being reported to either the Health Department or public.
A decade ago the medical reporting problem was brought to the public in a report “To Err is Human”. The report not only publicized the deficiencies in the health industry, but provided tips for the hospitals to improve and reduce errors. Since this knowledge has been available for so long why are deaths still going unreported?
No Regulation or Inadequate Regulation: less than half of the states in the US have mandatory reporting laws for hospitals and even with those that do medical errors go unreported and unnoticed since there are no consequences and no enforcement. When hospitals are found guilty of not reporting medical error they do not receive so much as a slap on the hand.
Program Underfunding: Budgets for enforcing reporting, analyzing the data and publishing the data are so underfunded that most states do not have an opportunity to track down the results let alone make them available to the public in a comprehensive report. In fact, in Washington State the budget is only enough to have one staff member which is not enough to monitor the hundreds of hospitals in the state. Washington isn’t the only state with funding problems-New York’s funding ran out for their program and so a report hasn’t been compiled in over 6 years. Texas’ law expired in 2007 and though it has since been reinstated the funds are not there to make it happen.
No Reason to Report: Doctors have no reason to report medical errors as it will actually effect them in a negative way- malpractice and decreased trust from patients could be an end result. Because of this Doctors have been found to fudge death certificates- and not cite the true cause of death which would show medical error as the true reason the patient died.
Money: We hate to think money would be a major factor in Health Care, but hospitals are afraid of losing money and patients. Hospitals do not want lose patients due to a poor medical error record, but they also don’t want to lose the money they bring in from extended stays due to hospital error. “To Err is Human” suggested changes which one hospital implemented- reducing the errors in medication prescriptions for heart patients. As a result, 900 fewer patients had to return to the hospital with medication errors giving the hospital $3.5 million less in revenue.
200,000 people die from medical errors and malpractice every year. If you know someone who has fallen victim to a wrongful death from hospital error please don’t wait to contact an attorney. The link above will lead you to a FREE copy of my book “In case of Death: Straight Talk on Washington Wrongful Death”. This book can help you not only figure out if you have a case, but help you know what must be done to soalve your case.