Public Health

Prioritize patient safety to prevent harm from medical errors

Surmountable Social Issues
Aug 5, 2023
6 min read
Medical errors still threaten patient safety years after discovering the extent of the problem / iStock

Issue 80 • Week of July 30, 2023

Last week, Surmountable covered how citizens can improve accessibility for the one in four Americans with a disability. It may come as a surprise that a recent analysis determined over 400,000 of those cases, as well as only slightly fewer fatalities, are caused every year by medical errors. That places our own healthcare system as our third highest cause of death after heart disease and cancer (not counting the pandemic).

Those numbers are staggering and led earlier studies on this topic to be met with skepticism, but they were ultimately accepted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Yet don't eschew all of modern medicine due to this risk. There is less than a 0.1% chance of serious harm due to a misdiagnosis and not seeking care will bring far worse outcomes. Still, we can all agree these incidents occur far too often.

Unfortunately, the above studies remain estimates because the CDC does not publish official statistics. So there has been very little awareness about this problem despite that July was just Medical Malpractice Awareness Month; the initiative has never achieved enough interest to register in Google Trends since it began in 2015.

The majority of medical malpractice lawsuits are actually not filed primarily to seek monetary damages. Most patients or their families instead pursue a legal recourse only as a last resort with a desire for an explanation, hope that similar situations will be prevented in the future, and anger of being continually stonewalled. The pervading culture of deny and defend drives malpractice insurance for doctors as high as $220,000 per year and leads twice as many claim-prone physicians as their peers to go into solo practices where accountability is even more difficult to monitor.

How can we prevent preventable harm in our healthcare system?

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