Medical errors kill more Americans annually than motor vehicle accidents, firearms and suicide combined, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Despite this, hospitals and medical providers are doing very little to determine how to prevent them from happening. Between 210,000 and 440,000 patients suffer from some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death each year after going to the hospital for care, according to 2014 Journal of Patient Safety. Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease and cancer.
This estimate is based on a review of medical files that identified preventable harm suffered by patients known as “adverse events,” using use a screening method called the Global Trigger Tool, which guides reviewers through medical records, searching for signs of infection, injury or error. Medical records flagged during the initial screening are reviewed by a doctor, who determines the extent of the harm.
In the studies, which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008, researchers found serious adverse events in as many as 21% of cases reviewed and rates of lethal adverse events as high as 1.4 percent of cases. By combining the findings and extrapolating across 34 million hospitalizations in 2007, preventable errors contribute to the deaths of 210,000 hospital patients annually. However, that is the baseline. The actual number more than doubles because the trigger tool does not catch errors in which treatment should have been provided but wasn’t because medical records are missing some evidence of harm and because diagnostic errors are not captured.
An estimate of 440,000 deaths from care in hospitals is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year. The study also cited other research that’s shown hospital reporting systems and peer-review capture only a fraction of patient harm or negligent care.
These studies demonstrate the importance of obtaining a second opinion from a personal injury lawyer before undergoing invasive tests and procedures. Many patients do not seek another opinion from a second because it may be time-consuming or they do not want to offend their physician.
However, second opinions can be an invaluable tool to prevent unnecessary tests and procedures. In cases of elective surgeries, for example, studies have found 30% of patients receive different opinions from a second physician. Additionally, obtaining a second opinion helps ensure that the most qualified physician performs the recommended procedure.
Medical malpractice actions prevent hospitals and medical providers from sweeping medical errors under the rug. When a patient files suit over a medical error, the information is made public. Medical providers who would not normally have been informed of the medical mistake will know about the medical error and will have an opportunity to learn from it. The legal process plays an important role in holding hospitals and medical providers accountable for medical mistakes when they do occur and in preventing future medical mistakes from happening.