Posted by Bill Sandweg on 20 March 2023.
The medical profession knows that there is a patient safety problem. Every time they examine patient safety, they find the same thing. People in hospitals are injured at an unacceptable rate and the doctors and hospitals seem to be unable to do anything about it.
In January, another study of hospital safety was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. The study was funded by two malpractice insurance companies. The authors were a number of doctors who wanted to see what the most recent data showed about patient safety in hospitals. They examined randomly selected patient charts for almost 3,000 hospitalizations, which took place during calendar year 2018 at 11 Massachusetts hospitals.
Trained nurses examined the charts and flagged those that had trigger events recognized as being indicators of adverse events. Adverse events occur when medical care causes harm unrelated to the underlying medical condition. The doctors then examined the flagged charts and decided whether there had been an adverse event, whether the adverse event was preventable, and just how much damage had been done to the patient. The results were not encouraging for the public or the malpractice insurance companies that paid for the study.
Almost 25% of the admissions involved at least one adverse event. Some poor patients experienced multiple adverse events. A third of the adverse events resulted in a serious injury to the patient. Serious injury was defined as one that required substantial medical intervention, or a prolonged recovery, or worse. Seven patients died as a result of their adverse events.
Almost 20% of the adverse events were determined by the doctors to be preventable. A preventable adverse event occurred in 6.8% of all admissions. A preventable adverse event that caused serious harm or death occurred in 1% of all admissions. The most common form of adverse event was related to medication. The second most common was related to surgery or other hospital procedures. Next came patient care problems usually related to nursing care and lastly infections.
Think about what this means for a moment. If you have to go to the hospital, there is a one in four chance you will be injured. There is an almost 7 in one hundred chance that you will be injured by medical malpractice. There is a one in one hundred chance that you will be seriously hurt or killed as the result of medical malpractice.
There were over 33,000,000 hospital admissions in the United States last year. You do the math. It works out to 330,000 serious injuries or death caused by malpractice last year alone. Far from being a rare thing, serious injuries caused by medical malpractice in hospitals occur every day and to almost 1,000 patients a day. If you add back in the injuries caused by medical malpractice that were significant but not considered serious, the number balloons to almost 2,000,000.
As was noted in last week’s blog post, very few of these injuries caused by malpractice will ever become a claim. Often it is because no one ever tells the patient or the patient’s family what really happened. They are left to figure out on their own why their loved one was seriously injured or died and they are never able to do so. In a smaller number of cases, the patient or the family just want to put the tragedy behind them. If they do make a claim, as I discussed last week, they likely to be met with a ferocious defense and a jury that has bought the myth that most medical malpractice claims are frivolous and not deserving of compensation.
If the medical profession is not going to fix the system to keep patients safe, the least it can do is identify the patients it is harming and compensate them for their injuries.