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“1,000 Preventable Medical Deaths a Day”: U.S. Senate Committee Investigating Epidemic of Medical Errors

On July 17th, Sen. Barrie Sanders (I – Vt.) opened a hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging by reciting some harrowing statistics:

  • As many as 400,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals;
  • Approximately 180,000 Medicare patients die every year from adverse and preventable medical errors in hospitals
  • One in twenty-five patients acquire an infection while in the hospital, which led to 700,000 people getting sick and 75,000 people dying in 2011.
  • Medical errors cost the U.S. health care system more than $17 billion in 2008. If you include indirect costs, medical errors may cost in excess of $1 trillion per year in the United States.
  • Preventable medical errors in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the United States.

All of the foregoing statistics, shocking as they may be, are only estimates because hospitals and health care providers are not accurately compiling the data necessary to fully understand and address the scope of the problem. That was the focus of the hearing led by Sen. Sanders, entitled “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety.”

Six experts testified before the subcommittee, and all of them cited the need to improve the health care system as a whole to stem the tide of these avoidable deaths. Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health, told the panel that “medical errors are largely the result of bad systems of care delivery, not individual providers … The strategy for improvement has to focus on three main areas: metrics, accountability, and incentives.” Another expert, Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told the panel that”Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem. We need to say that harm is preventable and not tolerable.”

Among the suggestions for addressing the problem was a proposal to establish a National Patient Safety Board — similar to the National Transportation Safety Board — to investigate patient harm. Jon James, a scientist and patient advocate who lost a son due to a medical error, also proposed a national patients’ bill of rights that would contain protections similar to those for workers and minority groups.

It is indeed inexcusable that so many Americans needlessly die every year due to medical errors that could and should be prevented. Any efforts to shed more light on the problem and come up with solutions to reduce the number of these deaths should be strongly supported.

Hovde Dassow + Deets: Indiana Medical Malpractice and Medical Error Attorneys

If you believe that you or a family member has suffered adverse effects as a result of a medical error, you are encouraged to contact the law firm of Hovde Dassow + Deets today at (317) 818-3100 or toll-free at (888) 404-6833 for a free, initial, and confidential consultation to discuss your case.

This article has been prepared by Hovde Dassow + Deets for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. The information is not provided in the course of an attorney-client relationship and is not intended to substitute for legal advice from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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