Medical Malpractice and Wrongful Death in Hospitals – An Alarming Trend

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that each year 98,000 Americans die as a result of medical malpractice. A recent study published in the Journal of Patient Safety says that number now is estimated to be between 210,000 and 440,000 patients. The new estimates, developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA’s space center in Houston and leader of an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America, were based on the findings of four recent studies which examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008. A copy of the article can be found here.

What makes those numbers particularly appalling is that the causes of wrongful death were preventable medical mistakes, such as errors of commission and omission, errors of communication and context, and diagnostic errors. And, even more disheartening, this number would make medical malpractice errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease and cancer, respectively.

The recent study found the increase was due to multiple causes. Systematically, hospitals struggle with staffing issues, making suitable technology available for patient care, and executing effective handoffs between shifts and inpatient and outpatient care. Further, increased production demands, coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability, also may increase the risk of preventable adverse events. James advocates for a national patient bill of rights for hospitalized patients that would empower them to be thoroughly integrated into their care so that they can take the lead in reducing their risk of serious harm from medical malpractice and wrongful death.

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