Friday, May 13, 2016

Medical Errors: A Hidden Killer

Medical errors may be the third leading cause of death in the United States, a new study contends.

John Hopkins University researchers analyzed eight years of U.S. data and concluded that more than 250,000 people die each year due to medical errors.

However, “incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics,” said Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at Baltimore-based Hopkins.

The CDC’s data collection method does not classify medical errors separately on a death certificate, according to the study authors, who called for changes to that criteria.

“The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used,” Makary explained in a university news release.

The Hopkins researchers examined four separate studies that analyzed medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008, including two that used data from federal agencies.

Then, using hospital admission rates from 2013, the investigators extrapolated that information, and based on a total of over 35 million hospitalizations, more than 251,000 deaths stemmed from a medical error. That translates to 9.5% of all U.S. deaths each year, the study authors said.

But the CDC data paints a different picture.

The CDC statistics show that in 2013, over 611,000 people in the United States died of heart disease, nearly 585,000 died of cancer and about 150,000 died of chronic respiratory disease.

“Top ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country’s research funding and public health priorities,” Makary said. “Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don’t appear on the list, the problem doesn’t get the funding and attention it deserves.”

The findings were published May 3 in the BMJ.

My Take:
This study will either be ignored or hotly contested. Just imagine the malpractice implications of tracking medical errors. The medical field does not want this data to see the light of day.

Last October, the United States finally instituted ICDA 10 diagnostic coding. The rest of the world has been using it for almost 20 years. It is specifically designed to help collect national health statistics not just “maximize billing for physician services.” In the years to come, we will begin to see more studies like this one that more clearly reflect our health care system.

Mayo Clinic has been tracking their diagnostic accuracy for many years. They claim to be the best diagnosticians in the world. However, they also state that they are wrong about the diagnosis about two-thirds of the time. Where does that leave the average physician? A vast majority of the time, patients are given the wrong diagnosis hence, the wrong treatment. I suspect this study is quite accurate.

The Bottom Line:
Western medicine is based on reductionist thinking. We give the patient a label (diagnosis), then treat that label rather than the patient. You must be your own advocate in any interaction with our traditional health care system. Otherwise, you run the real risk of being one of those quarter million people who die each year as a result of the care you receive at the local hospital.

Source: May 3, 2016 National Institutes of Health

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