If you knew an epidemic was coming to your community and that it would claim hundreds of thousands of lives, you would be concerned, wouldn’t you? Well, that epidemic is already here. And it claims up to half-a-million patients in the United States and Canada every year. Many times that number are severely injured, even permanently disabled. The cause? Medical errors in the hospital setting.
Medical errors harm patients at every care function
Shockingly, hospital harm is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and Canada. One-in-three patients will experience harm during their hospital stay, according to recent U.S. studies. The most common causes of hospital harm are medication errors (for example, being given the wrong drug, or the right drug in the wrong dose); infections (which can result from improper cleaning of medical instruments or contact with healthcare workers who haven’t washed their hands); falls (often a side-effect of medication); blood clots; and surgical errors (for example, leaving sponges or other instruments in the body, or operating on the wrong part of the body).
The hospital community and the healthcare professions have been aware of the problem of medical errors for some time. But it was not until 1999, and a report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, that the issue was brought more sharply into public focus. That report sounded the first real alarm about avoidable deaths caused by hospital harm and attempted to galvanize public opinion. As you will see from the accompanying video summary of a hearing held by the U.S. Senate in July of 2014, the problem has become worse, not better, over the years.
Harmful care more expensive than safe care
Medical errors carry a big price tag — at least $20 billion annually in the U.S. alone (comparable Canadian figures are not available). Some actuarial experts put the cost closer to one trillion dollars. That’s money that could have been used to hire more nurses or purchase life-saving therapies and technologies. Instead, it’s being used to treat the harmful effects of conditions that never should have occurred in the first place. The emotional cost to patients and families is beyond calculation. We hear about them every day. What makes all of this so much more tragic is that the harm caused by medical errors and breakdowns in care is, for the most part, preventable.
Everyone impacted by the epidemic of medical errors
If you haven’t been directly touched by hospital harm, maybe you know a family who has been. As a taxpayer, or an employer that provides healthcare benefits, you probably don’t like seeing good money wasted, either. However you look at it, this epidemic is your business.
And each voice can make a difference in making care safer
It’s time to take the harm out of hospital care. This epidemic won’t end until more of us stand up and demand the safe care we have all been promised. Hospitals know how to stop the harm being done to patients. Some have made great progress already. And more robust transparency and accountability would help others to follow. That’s why The Center for Patient Protection has launched its campaign Keep Me Safe — Make Patient Protection 1stSM.
But the real cure for this epidemic starts with you. Make yourself informed about the facts. Read about the tragic experiences of other families told in their own voices. Become a champion for patient safety to make Patient Protection 1stSM. Write to your elected representatives in the state or province where you live. Contact elected federal officials. Take up the cause on social media. Insist upon change. Above all, don’t wait until you or a loved one are harmed by an epidemic of medical errors that is avoidable.
You may not have any medical training, but you can play a huge role in stamping out this killer epidemic.
You’ll be glad you did.