But I believe the delivery of health care is unscientific and flawed; the industry’s unwillingness to face these flaws is causing needless injury; and there is a pervasive culture of dishonesty about medical mistakes that is misleading and unfair to patients and the public. Not coincidentally, I also believe that medical malpractice lawsuits are the single most important factor likely to drive meaningful health care reform and the only mechanism by which people injured by medical errors can receive any measure of justice.
So, part of my mission is to publicize information about health care errors that is otherwise ignored by popular media. Here, today, I highlight an article I found that was written by healthcare professionals (including M.D.s) and academicians. In an article titled, “The American Health Care System is the Leading Cause of Death and Injury in the United States” the authors explained their approach, “Never before have the complete statistics on…[medical errors] been combined in one paper. Medical science amasses tens of thousands of papers annually – each one a tiny fragment of the whole picture…Each specialty, each division of medicine, keeps their own records and data on morbidity and mortality like pieces of a puzzle…Finally putting the puzzle together we came up with some disturbing answers.”
The authors’ research reveals that “Iatrogenic acts” (acts resulting in inadvertent outcomes like death or injury) are under-reported, that there are at least 5 times more (and perhaps up to 20 times more) medical errors than commonly accepted. They relate the number of medical errors and related deaths as akin to ten jumbo jet crashes every day. Unlike jet crashes, however, these avoidable deaths get relatively little media coverage. Spread out over the nation in thousands of different locations, these unnecessary deaths are wrongly perceived as isolated and unusual when in fact they dwarf the number of people killed by drunk drivers, a problem that gets far more attention.
Part of the problem is that doctors are taught that mistakes are a failure of character and that therefore any acknowledgement of error (and any willingness to compensate the injured) is a sign of moral and professional inadequacy. As a consequence, intellectual dishonesty prevails and the medical community indulges a pattern of covering up mistakes rather than confessing them. “Probably nowhere else in professional life, ” the study authors relay, “are mistakes so easily hidden, even from ourselves.”
We see it in our practice every day as Erie medical malpractice lawyers. If there is any way for a group of doctors to blame the disease process itself, most will defend to the end a colleague who plainly committed a terrible mistake that, at a minimum, put the patient at greater risk of injury than the patient would have faced without the error. Even when the mistake and the harm are obvious (I’ve got a case going to trial in the next year with a surgeon who operated on the wrong body part) doctors simply refuse to acknowledge fault or responsibility.
Reform won’t happen until doctors accept that their mistakes are the problem that needs to be solved, not the lawsuits that result from their mistakes. That acceptance won’t happen until doctors acknowledge that (1) they are human and therefore make mistakes sometimes and (2) they are morally and legally obligated to compensate the people they hurt when they make mistakes. And I believe that doctors won’t acknowledge the truth until the rest of us acknowledge it. As long as most people indulge in the mistaken notion that doctors are infallible and lawsuits bad then we will enable the elements of the health care community who would deny the obvious.
The evidence is there, the conclusions obvious. All we need to do is open our eyes.