PUBLIC INFORMATION -- Experts estimate that 98,000 people die from preventable medical
errors each year, report Cathleen F. Crowley and Eric Nalder in the San Francisco Chronicle, and one of the main contributing causes is medical and governmental secrecy.
More Americans die each month of preventable medical
injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Meanwhile, a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
study concluded that an additional 99,000 patients a year succumb to
hospital-acquired infections. Almost all of those deaths, experts say,
also are preventable.
These numbers are not absolutes. There is no definitive study -
which is part of the problem - but all of the available research
indicates that the death toll from preventable medical injuries and
infections approaches 200,000 per year in the United States.
Ten years ago, a highly publicized federal report called the death
toll shocking and challenged the hospital industry to cut it in half.
Instead, federal analysts believe the rate of medical error is actually increasing.
A national investigation by Hearst Newspapers, including The
Chronicle, found that the hospital industry, the federal government and
most states have failed to take the effective steps outlined in the
report a decade ago.
Consequently, over that period, as many as 2 million Americans have died needlessly of preventable medical mistakes.
Secrecy built into the system has kept both the scope of the crisis and the specific problem areas out of public view.
The AMA and the American Hospital Association vehemently opposed an
attempt by President Bill Clinton to require hospitals to make
information about serious errors public. The groups launched a
multimillion-dollar advertising campaign that said mandatory reporting
would drive medical errors underground. From 2000 to 2002, they spent
$81 million on lobbying and political donations, records show.
Mandatory reporting was dead on arrival.
By contrast, Americans know exactly how many people die from car
accidents each year because lawmakers decided long ago that was a step
toward preventing them. Motor vehicle deaths are the No. 1 cause of
accidental death in the Unites States, with more than 43,600 deaths in
2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The next three
causes - poisoning, firearms and falls - account for 90,000 deaths,
But it is clear that if medical errors and infections were better tracked, they would easily top the list.
Today, both the AMA and the hospital association continue to oppose
requiring public reports of hospital errors. AMA officials say they
support voluntary reporting but still have the same concerns about
mandatory reporting as they did a decade ago.
The Obama administration does not support a nationwide, mandatory reporting system either.