The loss of any loved one is tragic. Whether it’s due to injury or sickness, death is often a catastrophe. Yet there’s a bitter irony when the cause of death comes from within the hospital, not from outside it.
We’d like to think that in the 21st century, medical error is disappearing. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. In fact, according to a recent analysis published in the BMJ, one of the world’s leading medical publications, medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. That’s why it’s important to understand just what medical error (also known as medical malpractice) is.
According to Martin A. Makary and Michael Daniel of the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, medical malpractice is “an unintended act or one that does not achieve its intended outcome.” This can be an error of planning, of execution, or an outright deviation from the proper medical process. In other words, medical malpractice can take many forms, and its effects can be trivial as well as severe.
To illustrate their point, they cite a case history that showcases the role of malpractice in a patient’s death:
A young woman left the hospital after a successful transplant operation, but she suffered from pain and was readmitted to the hospital. Doctors decided to run a variety of tests, many of which were unnecessary, to identify the problem. One of the tests was a pericardiocentesis, which samples fluid from space that surrounds the heart.
She was then released from the hospital and told to wait for the test results. A few days later, the unfortunate young woman checked into the hospital with a hemorrhage and cardiac arrest, and she passed away.
The autopsy showed that the syringe had peirced the skin during the pericardiocentesis slightly hitting the liver, which caused her death. Yet instead of listing the cause of her death as a medical error, the certificate simply blamed it on her cardiovascular system.
We know that medical error happens – after all, mistakes are unavoidable. But just how widespread is it? It’s difficult to identify the exact numbers, partly because “medical error” is never included on a death certificate – this would be too risky for doctors to admit. However, studies from the Harvard Medical School, the US Inspector General, and the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality calculate that anywhere from about 140,000 to 195,000 people die each year because of medical error. What’s more, these studies are likely understating the problem, because of the limited data available to researchers.
Yet even with those understatements, medical error ranks as one of the leading causes of death in this country. Until doctors start including information about medical error on death certificates, it’s up to ordinary patients, and ordinary citizens, to identify cases of malpractice. We need to understand that this problem affects all of us and that each patient must be aware of the possibility that medical malpractice is the true cause of death.
About attorney Scott Sandler:
Scott Sandler is an experienced trial lawyer representing personal injury victims for over 30 years. Founding attorney of The Law Office of Scott M. Sandler, Sandler’s dedicated and forceful approach has allowed him to obtain many multimillion-dollar verdicts and settlements.
Visit http://www.scottsandlerlawoffice.com/firm-profile for more information