Every year in America, around 440,000 people are killed as a result of preventable medical errors. Many suffer serious injury due to medical negligence. This is a fundamental problem that has become an epidemic in this country. Preventing these errors would not only save lives, it would lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients.
Quanisha is just one of numerous examples of the damaging errors occurring in hospitals throughout the United States. She underwent a routine surgery to remove a goiter in her neck in a Little Rock, Arkansas hospital. Within 12 hours she became short of breath and felt her neck tightening up, and she relayed her worry to the nurses. Her condition was never reported to the physician, nor was she monitored, and she soon began having seizures. She suffered severe brain damage, is bed-ridden, and will need constant care and supervision from her mother for the rest of her life.
Doctors later found that she suffered a preventable blood clot that could have been taken care of, had she been properly monitored. Stories like these are far too commonplace today. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in our country. They cost our country tens of billions of dollars each year.
Despite these horrors, there are Congressmen and state legislatures working very hard to limit the accountability of hospitals and medical staff for their negligence. Our civil justice system provides a way for families of deceased loved ones in these cases to have access to accountability. It also serves as an incentive to the health care industry to improve patient care. When accountability is removed, people will be at even more risk of death or injuries.
One in three patients who are admitted to the hospital will experience a medical error (Health Affairs). Wrong site surgeries and procedures, or “never events” are happening at an alarming rate of up to 40 times per week in American hospitals (Archives of Surgery).
These errors can include mistakes such as missed diagnoses, the use of incorrect or unproven treatments, mistakes in surgery and drug prescribing, and preventable problems such as bedsores, which can lead to infection and death. Strategies offered to medical facilities and staff include actions as simple as hand washing.
The epidemic of patient harm must be taken more seriously. Patients must be fully engaged with advocates during their hospital care and must use their voices to report and identify harm that’s been done. Only then will those who have risked lives by being negligent be held accountable.