Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Surgical Errors Continue To Be A Malpractice Problem...But Not Necessarily A Lawsuit Problem

Placing a chest tube in the wrong lung. Operating on the wrong side of the brain. 107 surgeries on the wrong body part. 3 prostate removal surgeries on the wrong person. These are just some of the...get ready for this figure...27,370 incidents of surgical screw ups over a 6 year period, according to a comprehensive study released recently.

This didn't happen in some Third World country. Here's the jaw dropping part: this study was limited to Colorado physicians alone! According to one surgical expert:

...the surgical blunders reported in the study are probably "the tip of the iceberg," says the lead researcher, Dr. Philip Stahel, M.D., a surgeon at Denver Health Medical Center. The actual number of patient and site mix-ups is likely much higher, says Stahel, describing those mistakes as "a catastrophe."

Begs the question: if preventable surgical mistakes of this magnitude are occurring in Colorado alone, how many are ocurring nationwide?

How serious were these surgical medical mistakes? "Overall, one-third of the mistakes led to long-term negative consequences for the patient. One patient even died of lung complications after an internist inserted a chest tube in the wrong side of his body."

Now, the medical industry (and The Chamber Of Commerce, insurance and pharmaceutical companies, and certain politicians) would have us believe that we are a "sue happy society" just ready to pounce on the medical profession at every turn and that doctors are under siege, right? Yet, this study, which highlights INDISPUTABLE medical negligence, pointed out that:

Only about 22 percent of the mistakes led to malpractice claims or lawsuits. The database is unusual in that it contains information on all incidents (not just those that resulted in a claim), and for that reason the rate of surgical mix-ups reported in the study is likely more accurate than those in previous studies...

The main reason for these surgical errors: lack of communication. You can add to that the fact that, in my humble opinion, the practice of medicine has become a volume business. And when that happens, confusion and/or complacency eventually sets in, which raises the risk of a preventable mistake.

What's the take away from this study? An strange trinity of medical mistakes that are repeating, serious, and often nothing is done about them by injured patients.
It sure knocks down some popular myths about medical malpractice in America (see "frivolous lawsuits"; "defensive medicine").

And oh, by the way, do you think that all these medical mistakes add to the cost of health care in America? Who do you think pays for all the re-operations and complications? Insurance companies and programs like Medicare and Medicaid...

No comments: