Medical Errors and their Prevention

Over the past several decades, modern medicine has continually evolved in its complexity. Delivering right and proper care to patients within the labyrinthine setup of the modern medical system can often prove to be challenging. Technologies and procedures for treating patients have become increasingly sophisticated with passing time. While this is a good thing in itself, it may entail greater levels of competency on the part of the medical staff who use them — something which may not be easily forthcoming.

Further, the choice among available medications in the market today could sometimes appear bewildering. To compound the problem, a large number of these medicines tend to have narrow margins of safety. A few experts have even expressed concern that modern medicine may have become intrinsically too unwieldy for people to deal with it on a routine basis. It is not surprising then that the incidence of medical errors, not infrequently of a serious nature, appears to be on the rise.

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Nevertheless it came as a shock when in 1999 the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a federal agency, brought out its report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, presenting the figures and trends in relation to preventable medical errors. As was found out by the study, the number of deaths attributable to medical deaths every year were not in hundreds but in thousands, in fact tens of thousands.

It was estimated that between 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die each year from the goofs and mix-ups that seem to almost routinely take place in our hospitals (Peters, Peters, 12). In comedy films we sometimes see hospital confusion leading to comic situations. In real life, however, this is not funny at all. This is terribly tragic. Because medical errors lead to human suffering and death — of staggering proportions — it is difficult to put a monetary value on the cost of medical mistakes.

However, following certain criteria, the IOM has attached a tag of $17 to $29 billion per annum on preventable medical errors. This figure is another indicator of the enormous toll that medical errors are taking on people and on the nation’s healthcare system. According to a 2000 study on iatrogenesis, i. e. , injuries and deaths caused as a result of complications arising from medical treatment, more than half of all the iatrogenic deaths are caused by medical errors, the remaining being attributable to negative effects of drugs.

Anywhere from 120,000 to 225,000 deaths each year are supposed to be taking place due to iatrogenesis; more than half of these death are caused by medical errors such as unnecessary surgery, medication errors, infections contracted in the hospital. The U. S. is by no means an exception in having such a high rate of serious medical errors. For example, British experts have estimated that 40,000 patients die each year in the U. K. directly or indirectly owing to medical errors. This number implies a much higher rate of medical errors in the U.

K. than in the U. S. when we consider the countries’ respective population sizes. Many other European countries are presently conducting studies to gauge the extent of the problem in their own healthcare industries and ascertain the number of deaths attributable to medical errors. All medical errors do not lead to death, in fact the majority of them do not. However, the number of deaths can serve as an indication toward the true scale of complications and suffering that result from medical errors in hospitals. In the U. S.

, the estimated 98,000 fatalities attributable to medical errors are part of an estimated one 700,000 to a million preventable adverse medical events that occur in our hospitals every year. This is equivalent to several Boeing jumbo jets crashing to ground every day. To err is human, but to err on this scale appears nothing less than monstrous. Medical care all over the world, including the US and the UK, is not as safe as it should be and could be. Despite a growing a general awareness of this problem, the collective will needed to fix it appears to be gravely lacking.

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