See What the Federal Government Has to Say
We trust in our healthcare because we must. If medical malpractice happens and a loved one is seriously injured or killed, we expect hospitals and our healthcare providers to admit fault and take accountability for what happened.
Sadly, patients cannot always count on hospitals and healthcare providers to do the right thing.
20 years ago, the Institute of Medicine pulled back the curtain of safety that long cloaked the healthcare industry with its landmark report To Err Is Human. This game changing study called national attention to the rate of preventable errors in U.S. hospitals (estimating that as many as 98,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors in hospitals) and sounded a clarion call that sparked the patient-safety movement.
The Alarming Findings of the Federal Government’s Report on the Healthcare Industry
Unfortunately, a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) more than a decade later shows that patients still have much to be concerned about when receiving medical care at hospitals
The OIG’s report, “Adverse Events in Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare beneficiaries,” highlighted the following list of grim statistics:
- 5% of hospitalized patients studied suffered adverse events during their hospital stays
- An additional 13.5% of patients studied suffered adverse medical events that caused temporary harm
- 27% of patients studied who experienced adverse events had at least one “cascade” event, where multiple, related events occurred in succession
- 5% of all patients studied suffered an adverse event that contributed to their death
- Preventable events were most commonly linked to medical errors, substandard treatment, and inadequate patient monitoring or assessment
- Doctor reviewers determined that 44% of the adverse events were likely preventable
- The majority of adverse events discovered by Doctor reviewers were not reported because they were not on the National Quality Forum (NQF) list
Dr. Carolyn Clancy, Director of the Department of Health and Human Services wrote that the OIG’s report confirms that,
“adverse events continue to affect hospital inpatients at an alarming rate, and that the type of events that occur vary widely. The report reaffirms AHRQ’s need to continue work on improving patient safety by broadening investigation to include areas that are not always seen on lists of adverse events that should never occur or should always be reports.”
Why Are There So Many Adverse Events And Why Aren’t They Always Reported?
Why aren’t more hospital-based errors and adverse events being reported? The government’s report concluded, first and foremost, that the adverse events in question were not recognized as adverse. In other words, if medical staff are not educated and trained to identify adverse medical events there is no way such events will be identified, reported or measures taken to prevent them in the future.
Additional explanations for the frequency of unreported medical errors are:
- Fear by medical staff that they will suffer retribution or be retaliated against by the hospital for reporting medical errors and adverse events
- The business of medicine. Hospitals are by their nature businesses. By focusing on becoming more profitable cost cutting measures can lead to patient safety shortfalls. Conversely, increased productivity demands can cause a lack of focus and fatigue (i.e. “haste makes waste”).
- Complexity of the healthcare industry and competing pressures often leads to patient safety taking a backseat to compliance with health insurance requirements, expanding medical care offerings and shifting leadership and oversight.
The frightening conclusion of this report is that if you or a loved one is hospitalized, there is a grave risk posed by an adverse event that could cause death or serious injury. Worse yet, because many of the adverse events that harm patients are not part of the NQF list, they are not reported, which means you are never told what really happened.
The simple truth is that if you or a loved one suffers a terrible medical outcome that may have been caused by medical malpractice, chances are the hospital will never tell you.
How to Protect Yourself from Medical Errors
What can you do to protect yourself? The following list of patient protection measures is neither exhaustive nor a guarantee but will certainly improve your chances for a safer outcome from a hospital stay:
- Awareness of the danger. By recognizing that hospitals are not as safe as we would hope and carry with them a host of medical risks, you will be more vigilant and more likely to prevent medical errors before they happen.
- Get a patient advocate. Anytime you or a loved one must receive medical care from a hospital you should bring with you someone who can look out for you. If you are not good at speaking up for yourself, bring someone who is. If you have a friend or family member who works in the medical field, ask them to tag along or check in on you to make sure things are going as they should.
- Get your medical records. Whether you access your care through a patient portal or make a formal request for your medical records (you have the right to a copy of all of our medical record at little to no cost) it is imperative that you review your records to see what your providers actually wrote. Often times, patients will be told one thing by their nurses and doctors only for the medical records to tell a completely different story. By reviewing your medical record, you can correct mistakes, discovery medical errors and ensure you are better educated to understand and speak up about your future medical care.
- Talk to a medical malpractice lawyer. If you ever have questions about a bad medical outcome, you should speak to a well-qualified medical malpractice lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer will talk to you and investigate your medical records for free. If there are no meaningful medical mistakes then there is no charge. If your medical malpractice lawyer discovers a medical error that caused serious injury or death then you will be eligible for a cash settlement and your lawyer only gets paid from a recovery. Speaking with a medical malpractice lawyer is risk free and will provide you peace of mind.