When you’re a patient, you trust you’re in good hands, but even the best doctor or nurse can make a mistake on you or someone you love.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital and the chief medical correspondent for CNN. This is what he said:
- Doctors make mistakes. They may be mistakes of technique, judgment, ignorance or even, sometimes, recklessness. Regardless of the cause, each time a mistake happens, a patient may suffer. We fail to uphold our profession’s basic oath: “First, do no harm.”
- According to a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, as many as 98,000 Americans were dying every year because of medical mistakes.
- Today, exact figures are hard to come by …. But a reasonable estimate is that medical mistakes now kill around 200,000 Americans every year.
- That would make them one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
“Mistakes are happening every day in every hospital in the country that we’re just not catching,” says Dr. Albert Wu, an internist at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Medical errors kill more than a quarter million people every year in the United States and injure millions. Add them all up and “you have probably the third leading cause of death” in the country, says Dr. Peter Pronovost, an anesthesiologist and critical care physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The harm is often avoidable.
Why have these mistakes been so hard to prevent?
- Here’s one theory. It is a given that American doctors perform a staggering number of tests and procedures, far more than in other industrialized nations, and far more than we used to.
- Since 1996, the percentage of doctor visits leading to at least five drugs’ being prescribed has nearly tripled, and the number of MRI scans quadrupled.
- Certainly many procedures, tests and prescriptions are based on legitimate need. But many are not. In a recent anonymous survey, orthopedic surgeons said 24% of the tests they ordered were medically unnecessary.
- Each additional procedure or test, no matter how cautiously performed, injects a fresh possibility of error.
- CT and MRI scans can lead to false positives and unnecessary operations, which carry the risk of complications like infections and bleeding.
- The more medications patients are prescribed, the more likely they are to accidentally overdose or suffer an allergic reaction.
What may be even more important is remembering the limits of our power. More — more procedures, more testing, more treatment — is not always better. In 1979, Stephen Bergman, under the pen name Dr. Samuel Shem, published rules for hospitals in his caustically humorous novel, “The House of God.” Rule No. 13 reads: “The delivery of medical care is to do as much nothing as possible.” First, do no harm.