Know what the third leading cause of death is in the US? Preventable hospital error

hospitalby Fotos GOVBA

Can we at least try not to kill 440,000 patients per year?
[Via Doc Searls Weblog]

Obamacare matters. But the debate about it also misdirects attention away from massive collateral damage to patients. How massive? Dig To Make Hospitals Less Deadly, a Dose of Data, by Tina Rosenberg in The New York Times. She writes,

Until very recently, health care experts believed that preventable hospital error caused some 98,000 deaths a year in the United States — a figure based on 1984 data. But a new report from the Journal of Patient Safety using updated data holds such error responsible for many more deaths — probably around some 440,000 per year. That’s one-sixth of all deaths nationally, making preventable hospital error the third leading cause of death in the United States. And 10 to 20 times that many people suffer nonlethal but serious harm as a result of hospital mistakes.

The bold-facing is mine. In 2003, one of those statistics was my mother. I too came close in 2008, though the mistake in that case wasn’t a hospital’s, but rather a consequence of incompatibility between different silo’d systems for viewing MRIs, and an ill-informed rush into a diagnostic procedure that proved unnecessary and caused pancreatitis (which happens in 5% of those performed — I happened to be that one in twenty). That event, my doctors told me, increased my long-term risk of pancreatic cancer.

Risk is the game we’re playing here: the weighing of costs and benefits, based on available information. Thus health care is primarily the risk-weighing business we call insurance. For generations, the primary customers of health care — the ones who pay for the services — have been insurance companies. Their business is selling bets on outcomes to us, to our employers, or both. They play that game, to a large extent, by knowing more than we do. Asymmetrical knowledge R them.


Almost half a million people dead that do not have to be. And maybe 10 million who are severely harmed. Every year!

So why do we have a system that tolerates almost half a million preventable deaths a year? Is it because deaths are cheaper to the hospitals and insurance companies than life? Is it because the true customers here are the insurance companies, with the patients as a commodity traded for value?

Obamacare has many flaws but it is an attempt to find a better solution. We hope it makes things better. But if against all expectations it somehow results in an increase in deaths, then we will know and can move to something that works.

Because we simply cannot stay where we are.

One thought on “Know what the third leading cause of death is in the US? Preventable hospital error

  1. Obamacare is going to make this problem worse!! Most of the deaths are caused by bureaucratic errors. And check which ares of the country are the worst.

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