What if an epidemic wiped out the entire population of Dallas and continued on to Canada to kill everyone in Kingston, Shawinigan and Victoria? Just the possibility would be enough to create a North American-wide healthcare emergency. Yet medical errors in the United States will kill, by conservative estimates, some 1.2 million people between 2014 and 2020. In Canada, these preventable errors will claim more than 240,000 lives in the same period, according to recent figures.
Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in both countries, yet the response by the healthcare industry continues at its leisurely pace — a conference here, another research paper there. Governments are virtually invisible on the subject. But families everywhere that have experienced these consequences know the pain behind those figures and that just one death is too much. They know all too well that what killed or harmed a loved one could have been prevented and that all too often hospitals are tempted to cover up the truth.
That’s why it is time for patients and families to lead the way in demanding the changes necessary to make hospital care safer. They need to stand up and speak out in demanding changes in law and professional practices to create a true culture of patient safety. Zero tolerance needs to be embedded in every healthcare institution for failures to follow hand hygiene practices and for basic medication errors, to cite just two common causes of safety breakdowns.
There are many reasons that have been advanced by healthcare experts as to why medical errors continue to claim the casualties they do. Variations on proposed solutions that could have been implemented a decade ago are regularly put forward. Political leaders seem to have no ideas at all. But patients and families know that there is really only one thing that needs to be said about this avoidable epidemic of death. Just Stop It.