31 Jul 2014

“1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day is Too Many”: Senate Committee Holds Hearing on Preventable Medical Errors

It isn’t an illness, disease, or other unexpected hazard that is the third leading cause of death in the United States, it is preventable medical errors. A study in the Journal of Patient Safety estimates that approximately 440,000 patients die each year from preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals. To put it another way, medical mistakes kill the equivalent of the entire population of Atlanta every single year.

This stunning fact, which likely comes as a surprise to many, is what led the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to hold a hearing this past July 17th entitled “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety.”

Sen. Barrie Sanders (I – Vt.), the subcommittee chairman, began the hearing by noting more harrowing statistics about the needless suffering caused by medical mistakes:

  • Approximately 180,000 Medicare patients die every year from adverse and preventable medical errors in hospitals
  • One in twenty-five patients acquire an infection while in the hospital, which led to 700,000 people getting sick and 75,000 people dying in 2011.
  • Medical errors cost the U.S. health care system more than $17 billion in 2008. If you include indirect costs, medical errors may cost in excess of $1 trillion per year in the United States.

The committee heard testimony from six experts, all of whom urged comprehensive reform, the need for better systems for the delivery of services, and improved collection and sharing of data about medical mistakes throughout the medical community. Some of the testimony included:

  • Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, who told the panel that “medical errors are largely the result of bad systems of care delivery, not individual providers … The strategy for improvement has to focus on three main areas: metrics, accountability, and incentives.”
  • Jon James, a scientist and patient advocate who lost a son due to a medical error proposed a national patients’ bill of rights that would contain protections similar to those for workers and minority groups.
  • Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told the panel that”Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem. We need to say that harm is preventable and not tolerable.”

An additional suggestion for addressing the problem was a proposal to establish a National Patient Safety Board — similar to the National Transportation Safety Board — to investigate patient harm.

As a registered pharmacist in addition to being a seasoned medical malpractice lawyer, I have seen and understand the devastating impact medical errors can have on individuals and families. Any efforts to reduce the number of these tragic mistakes should be encouraged and supported.

J. Alan Welch: Brunswick, Georgia Medical Malpractice Lawyer

If you or a loved one is suffering from a medical error, or even if you are unsure if such an error occurred, please give me a call at (912) 265-9811 for a free consultation to discuss your situation. Together, we will figure out what happened, what we can do, and how we can take every possible step to bring you the comfort and compensation that can aid in your recovery.

This article has been prepared by J. Alan Welch Law for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This blog is for educational purposes only as well as to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog you understand that there is no attorney client relationship between you and the attorney or law firm. The blog should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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