A Jumbo Jet Full of Passengers Crashed Every Day in the US in 2018.
That is a shocking statement, and if it were true there would be an outcry. Undoubtedly, there would be Congressional hearings. Every newspaper and cable newscast would be full of the stories of the people whose lives were lost-and how it should be prevented. Certainly, it would drastically decrease the number of people willing to risk their lives by flying in an airplane.
And, yet, this is the number of people who die every year in this country from medical errors. Over 250,000 people die every year from preventable mistakes. That number makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S. after heart disease and cancer. The tragic reality is that the vast majority of errors are not reported and so the system vulnerabilities that contributed to the error cannot be corrected.
In 2004, I published my first book: What to Ask the Doc, the Questions to Ask to Get the Answers You Need. During that year I traveled to different cities for appearances and to conferences that highlighted patient safety issues. It is at one of those conferences that I heard Dr. Samantha Collier who was HealthGrades' vice president of medical affairs, make the analogy comparing deaths from medical errors to planes crashing every day. It was a stunning image. And it is tragic that 15 years later, little to no substantial progress has been made to improve the system.
In my experience, the vast majority of healthcare providers are intelligent, well-trained, compassionate people. But they are human. And the pressures of production in the healthcare industry is as intense as in any other. Without effective fail-safe measures unnecessary errors will continue to take lives. We have an arrogance in this country that we have the best healthcare system in the world. However, if we base judgment on patient outcomes and harms caused by high error rates, it is clear that we are not even close to the best. Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom all surpass us using those criteria to measure quality. We have an urgent need to demand better reporting of medical errors. When that is done, institutions will be forced to improve the systems that lead to errors, and patients will be safer.
This all highlights the need to be an active participant in your healthcare. Take nothing for granted and understand that errors happen. If you ask questions and are sure to have a complete understanding of the risks and benefits for EVERY test, procedure and medication before you consent to them, you may protect yourself from taking a ride on a doomed jumbo jet of healthcare that might crash. Being an active and informed participant is the best protection.
An HBO Documentary will highlight these important issues.