Death by medical error

The statistics on deaths caused by medical error in the United States are very troublesome:

Heart disease: 614,348
Cancer: 591,699
Medical error: 251,454
Respiratory disease: 147,101
Accidents: 136,053
Strokes: 133,103
Alzheimers: 93,541
Flu/pneumonia: 55,227
Kidney disease: 48,146
Suicide: 42,773
(Figures from John Hopkins University, National Center for Health Statistics amd BMJ, published in the Washington Post).

A quarter of a million (!) people went into hospital expecting first class treatment, and were killed accidentally by medical error. The figure speaks for itself. Of course, there are always going to be mistakes – to make mistakes is human. But the doctors are paid handsomely for their services, more handsomely than in any other advanced country. Surgeons and specialists can typically end up millionaires. In return the American health system does a poor job. Life expectancy is below most other advanced countries, and here we are, having to pay, say $56,000 for a knee joint replacement and quite possibly coming out in a wooden box.

What the answer is I don’t know, but I do think the culture of money and enrichment has a role in encouraging doctors – and hospitals – to rush procedures and push through more and more people, for the hospital if not for themselves. I can attest that it is quite usual to insist on CT scans and MRIs that help pay for the gear but are arguably unnecessary (nothing to do with deaths, but indicative of an attitude).

I have asked my wife to absolutely keep me out of hospitals, on the grounds that, even if they don’t kill you you get an infection. My trust level is low. I exclude the stellar job done by the doctor who gave me a new hip. This is the problem – there are really wonderful doctors among the careless. Sweeping statements are easy to make until you remember the good guys. But a quarter of a million accidental deaths…. Unacceptable.