Why Aren’t We Tracking Patient Harm?

November 19, 2015

Patients are Getting Hurt. Why Aren’t We Keeping Track?

Let’s not talk about lawsuits for a moment. Let’s not think about financial compensation. Instead, let’s talk about the preventable harm that patients are suffering each day in doctors’ offices, hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities. Many of the injuries people suffer are not considered medical malpractice. The fact that a serious injury is not malpractice, however, does not mean the pain and suffering, inconvenience and loss that these people and their family members experience isn’t worth attention. So the question is, why aren’t we paying attention? Why aren’t we tracking patient harm?

To Understand the Problem, we Need Accurate Measures

In order to stop the staggering increase in deaths, hospitals need to know the numbers lost and what caused each mistake.

In order to stop the staggering increase in deaths, hospitals need to know the numbers lost and what caused each mistake.

In 2014, experts testified in front of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging.  Those experts included medical doctors and PhDs who focus on patient safety in the United States. Dr. Peter Pronovost, who is senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine stated that, “‘Our collective action in patient safety pales in comparison to the magnitude of the problem.'” The harm, he said, “‘is preventable and not tolerable.'” Professor Dr. Ashisha Jha from the Harvard School of Public Health noted that, “‘patients are no better protected now than they were 15 years ago.”

The Numbers Keep Getting Worse

Hospital deaths

Entirely too many people are left mourning the unnecessary loss of their loved ones due to medical mistakes.

In 1999, the estimate was that up to 98,000 people die in hospitals each year due to preventable medical mistakes. In 2010, that number increased to 180,000 patients on, “Medicare alone.” Now, it is estimated that between 210,000 and 440,000 people each year, “suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.” How is this possible? Given the myriad advances in medical care during the past 15 years, how is it that the number of people who are being seriously hurt and killed in hospitals due to preventable mistakes is increasing and not decreasing?

Why Don’t We Know How Many People are Seriously Harmed or Killed Each Year?

Which number is correct? Are 200,000 or patients being harmed or killed every year in US hospitals? Or are 440,000 patients being seriously harmed or killed every year in American hospitals? The numbers are that broad because we really don’t know. The question is, why don’t we know? Why aren’t we requiring hospitals to keep track of and report all serious injuries and deaths? 440,000 deaths, incidentally, is approximately, “‘one-sixth of all deaths  that occur in the United States each year.'” How are we supposed to solve a problem when we don’t know how serious it really is? What we do know though, is that even at 98,000 people, the problem is already catastrophic.

This is Unacceptable

Even on the low-end of the estimate, we have a serious problem in this country with our medical care. People are unnecessarily dying in great numbers in our hospitals. This needs to stop. The first way to resolve this problem is to get an accurate data count. The second way is to understand why people are dying. What mistakes are hospitals making that are causing so many deaths? It is only by understanding the numbers and the causes that we can figure out how to prevent these “preventable mistakes” and to stem this tide of untimely and unnecessary deaths in our nation’s hospitals.



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