Medical errors kill 98,000 a year, cost $29 billion in damages in U.S. : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Medical errors kill 98,000 a year, cost $29 billion in damages in U.S.

Tuesday, September 12, 2000



WASHINGTON - Medical errors are a top cause of death in the United States today, killing as many as 98,000 people each year and costing $29 billion in damages, said the chairman of a new government task force convened to reduce problems.

"Like cancer, disease, stroke and AIDS, medical errors are a major public health problem," Quality Interagency Coordination Task Force chairman John M. Eisenberg said yesterday. "Weve spent billions of dollars for years to fight these other problems, and we have to devote the same attention to medical errors. We need a battle plan." Health-care professionals who attended the task forces National Summit on Medical Errors and Patient Safety Research agreed yesterday that mistakes must be tracked nationwide to spot problems and eliminate them.

But they were divided on whether any data compiled should be used merely to identify trends or also to crack down on institutions or professionals with high error rates. Physicians, like Cleveland Clinic oncologist Roger Macklis, said possible penalties would result in under-reporting of errors and less accurate research. Regulators and consumer advocates argued for public disclosure and sanctions against institutions with persistent problems.

"Improving patient safety involves changing the traditional culture of health care," said former American Hospital Association chairman Gordon Sprenger of Minneapolis. "It requires us to create a culture that encourages providers to bring errors to the forefront, a culture that is nonpunitive and blameless, a culture that encourages us to learn from failure."

But Jim Winn of the Federation of State Medical Boards of the United States Inc. said he would oppose "any system in which the act of reporting an error would protect the perpetrator from discipline."

"Practitioners should not be allowed to hide if there is a pattern of poor patient care," he said.

While Eisenberg said medical professionals who make mistakes should always inform the patient, Susan Sheridan of Boise, Idaho, whose son and husband were victims of medical errors, said doctors often go to great lengths to cover them up.

"I sometimes wonder if the government is more concerned about deaths and injuries that occur in SUVs and airplanes than they do in hospitals, the one place where we should feel unquestionably safe," Sheridan said. "Why is that?"

Task force members said ideas from yesterdays forum would help them decide how to administer $50 million in grants for research on ways to reduce medical errors. They are scheduled to discuss the topic in private Sept. 29.

)2000 THE PLAIN DEALER. Used with permission.

-- Carl Jenkins (, September 12, 2000


When manufacturers make a mistake and make a product that hurts or kills people, they are certainly held acccountable -- there is no "culture that is nonpunitive and blameless" when it comes to Firestone tire deaths. Yet we manage, overall, a high safety record: there does not seem to be an "underreporting" problem leading to, say, greater risk than if the companies were not held liable.

-- l hunter cassells (, September 12, 2000.

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