A recent study found that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States. The research extrapolated from data collected in previous studies and estimated that more than 250,000 Americans die each year because of mistakes in their medical care. That finding should be more than enough to inspire medical professionals to look for ways to improve. Unfortunately, the study and others like it are often dismissed in an industry stuck in its ways.
Medical malpractice insurance companies are motivated to help doctors and hospitals avoid the situations that lead to lawsuits. Insurers analyze their risk based on the malpractice claims filed against their clients. If a hospital or medical provider wants to avoid paying more for malpractice insurance, it may be compelled to make changes that improve patient safety. Mistakes that harm patients but don't lead to a lawsuit are unlikely to lead to improvements to safety procedures.
Healthcare-associated infections provide an excellent example of the improvements that can be made when the industry is motivated. For years, hospitals treated hospital-acquired infections as an inevitable part of doing business. When a few hospitals targeted the problem, it became clear that many of these infections could be prevented. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that coordinated efforts between healthcare facilities and personnel could decrease some types of infection by more than 70 percent. Where the problem of infections was ignored, the shockingly high rates of infection and death continued, unabated.
Once patients and their lawyers discovered that these healthcare-associated infections could be prevented, they began targeting the groups that failed to follow infection prevention protocols. Lawsuits provided an incentive to improve safety, even in facilities where the problem had been ignored for decades.
Countless victims of medical malpractice never speak to an attorney or even to the doctor or hospital where they were harmed. Patients are often unaware of the standards their doctors are expected to meet, so they are reluctant to make accusations of malpractice. Patients should trust their instincts.
You have a reasonable expectation of care. You know when something does not feel right in the care you are receiving, or in the care received by a loved one. You may not have been the victim of medical malpractice, but you should speak to a lawyer to make sure. If you do have a claim, you may be able to get the compensation you need to move forward. You may also help the next patient avoid the harm you suffered.
Source: NPR, "Medical Errors Are No. 3 Cause Of U.S. Deaths, Researchers Say," by Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce, 3 May 2016
Wall Street Journal, "Clues to Better Health Care From Old Malpractice Lawsuits," by Laura Landro, 9 May 2016