Nasty little secrets come to light.

I’m doing homework….yeah I know that’s not a big deal or unusual, but something I read needs to be shared with a larger audience.

I’m reading for my HS755 course on Organization and Delivery of Acute, Long-term, and Community-based Care.  I’m sure it sounds boring, but I actually have found the readings and classes quite insightful.  Recently we’ve been focusing on hospitals: accreditation, report cards, standards of care, and today’s illumination, routine accidents.

Here’s some figures that I thought were rather disturbing:

Accidental Deaths in the US

  • Commercial aviation deaths – 329 
  • Drowning deaths – 3,959 
  • Deaths from falls – 14,986 
  • Motor vehicle deaths – 43,649 
  • Deaths from medical errors – 120,000 

A Harvard University School of Public Health professor named Lucian Leape first discovered that 1,000,000 people are injured by medical errors during hospital treatment and 120,000 die as a result.  He likened it to having a jumbo jet plane crashing every day.  Leape and his collegues examined medical records for a 1991 report and found that “one of every 200 patients admitted to a hospital died as a result of hospital error.”  Not only are these numbers not reported to the public (had you heard anyting before now…I hadn’t), but only between 5 and 10 percent are actually reported to the hospital itself because medical professionals are so afraid about letting down their patients by admitting they aren’t perfect and risk losing their liscences because of errors that might or might not have been avoided.

Now I’m not saying don’t go to the hospital if you’re sick and need help.  What I am saying is that you need to be aware of what’s going on and as a patient you have a right to know.  There’s something brewing in medical care called “transparency” in which patients are able to see beforehand the actual numbers of accidents for different procedures, secondary morbidity (illness) rates, nosocomial infection rates (infections gotten at the hospital during an operation, treatment or recovery), as well as many other things.  I am a big proponent of transparency and wish that it were already widely implemented. 

As a public health student and eventual professional, it’s my job to let you know what problems are out there and how to find useful information for the questions you have as well as to work on solutions to problems.  As a taxpayer and a voter, however, it’s your job to make sure that I and others in my field as well as our elected representatives 1) recogize that there is a problem, 2) listen to the voters about possible solutions, 3) form proper legislation or alternative programs to attack the problem, and 4) are held responsible for actions and inactions. 

You can go blue in the face talking about high insurance co-pays and premiums, the increasing number of uninsured and underinsured, the high price of care and prescription drugs, and health disparities among populations.  These problems are not going to go away by complaining about them.  What we really need to do is start suggesting alternatives and working towards a solution.

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