According to movies and TV shows, medical errors are just useful tools to make a plot funnier. Leaving a tool inside a patient is usually seen as hilarious, usually leading to the character panicking about getting a lawsuit until everything turns out fine. The same can be said about junior mints.
Hell, if the show or movie is a dark comedy, the whole shebang could lead to the patient dying and the characters suffering no repercussions whatsoever for the death caused by their lack of attention. But that is surprisingly close to what happens in real life, at least according to a recent study.
According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the US. Even worse, most of them tend to go unobserved, at least in the official records. And there are many ways in which fatal medical errors can make their way into even the most skilled doctor’s day.
By looking over the information from four different studies related to death rates, the team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins hospital determined that there are at least 251,454 deaths caused by medical errors every year in the United States. And they’re not even taking into account nursing home deaths.
One of the main reasons for these completely unnecessary deaths is that hospitals aren’t really doing much to prevent them. And death certificates are just ways to synchronize the facts with the insurance billing codes, so they don’t really care about what actually caused the death. There is a very sad example of this presented in the paper.
Say a patient just underwent a successful organ transplant and, seeming healthy, was sent home. She started getting sick and had to go back to the hospital for a non-specific complaint. Attempting to determine what was afflicting her, a doctor accidentally cut into her liver without noticing it.
She was then sent back home, as nothing seemed to be wrong with her, but she was brought back with internal bleeding and died of a cardiac arrest. In this case, the death certificate only wrote down a cardiovascular issue as the cause of death, even though the cut was responsible for it.
And these things happen hundreds of thousands of times per year. Even forgetting tools inside the patient could be easily avoided by just labeling each instrument and making a quick inventory after the surgery. The researchers are convinced that this is not intentional, but that hospitals are simply unaware of the facts.
This is what the study’s lead author, Dr. Martin Makary, had to say about the situation:
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. But they need the support from the system to solve these problems and to help us help improve the quality of care.
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