Preventable medical errors in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the United States, a Senate panel was told on July 14. Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans.
“Medical harm is a major cause of suffering, disability, and death –
as well as a huge financial cost to our nation,” Sen. Bernie Sanders
(I-Vt.) said at the outset of the hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.
“This is a problem that has not received
anywhere near the attention that it deserves and today I hope that we
can focus a spotlight on this matter of such grave consequence,” added
Sanders, the panel’s chairman.
The Journal of Patient Safety recently published a study which
concluded that as many as 440,000 people die each year from preventable
medical errors in hospitals. Tens of thousands also die from preventable
mistakes outside hospitals, such as deaths from missed diagnoses or
because of injuries from medications.
The new research followed up on a landmark study, To Err is Human,
conducted by the Institute of Medicine 15 years ago, when researchers
reported that as many as 98,000 people die in hospitals each year due to
preventable medical errors. Experts now say that figure was too low and
hospitals have been too slow to make improvements.
There has been some progress, Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins
University testified. Yet thousands of patients still are dying
unnecessarily from infections, preventable blood clots, adverse drug
events, falls, over exposure to medical radiation and diagnostic errors.
“We need to declare right now that preventable harm is unacceptable and
work to prevent all types of harm,” Pronovost said.
Compared to the rest of the world, the United States is about
average. “While average is OK, given that we spend more on health care
than any other country we should be a lot better. Our high spending is
not buying us particularly safe care,” said Dr. Ashish Jha of the
Harvard School of Public Health.