Complex healthcare: Several factors contribute to medical mistakes and deaths

"Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says."

“Now comes a study in the current issue of the Journal of Patient Safety that says the numbers may be much higher — between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, the study says.”

The recent political news and filibuster activity regarding defunding the Affordable Care Act could trigger a government shutdown. Imagine you or your loved one is a patient at a VA hospital when that happens! A friend once told a story about losing her grandfather during the U.S. Government shutdown in 1995 and 1996 when, for 28 days, non-essential services were suspended[i]. The friend who lost her grandfather suggested that medical staff shortages were to blame for her grandfather going in, for a routine checkup, and never leaving the VA hospital in Hines, Illinois. We don’t really know what happened in that instance, but staff shortages and the business of healthcare can certainly contribute to medical mistakes leading to unfortunate conditions up to and including death.

Medical mistakes reported in a recent article on a public interest journalism site, suggests deaths caused by medical mistakes, total at least 210,000 per year.[ii] The article references a 1999 report published by the Institute of Medicine[iii] called the “To Err Is Human” report, “which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of medical mistakes in hospitals.” This September a more recent study in the Journal of Patient Safety[iv], published by The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, Inc., reported that the current numbers of patient harms and deaths is much higher than the above-referenced 1999 report.

“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”— Sophocles, Antigone”

The abstract and article by Dr. James reports that the amount of medical research could “overwhelm the individual physician trying to optimize the care of his patients.” Why? You can imagine the amount of information and continuing education our doctors are expected to process is more than what most people could handle. Combine that with the “lack of a well-integrated and comprehensive continuing education system in the health professions,” and you have the recipe for human error. Continuing education is not the only shortcoming in healthcare systems. Administrative issues also contribute to medical mistakes.

Dr. James’ article addresses increasing strains on healthcare administrations, and notes, “At the system level, hospitals struggle with staffing issues, making suitable technology available for patient care, and executing effective handoffs between shifts and also between inpatient and outpatient care.” Imagine not being able to effectively perform your job because your hands are tied by red tape. Do you know anyone who works in the healthcare system? Ask them if they feel like they are doing their job while trying not to become entangled in puppet strings.

Does medical negligence/malpractice become more complicated by the suggestions in Dr. James report? Possibly, but that is why good lawyers keep up to date with research and findings.

One focus of Michael V. Favia’s law practice is health law which includes medical negligence/malpractice. He stays current on news and events involving healthcare and is a member of a few boards of advisors/directors including the Chicago Concussion Coalition (Sports Legacy Institute) and HealthLeaders (National Center for Healthcare Leadership). If you are interested in learning more about Michael V. Favia & Associates, serving Chicago and its suburban communities, please visit the Favia Law Firm website for resources and articles of interest. To contact the firm to speak to a lawyer about a healthcare-related concern, you may dial (773) 631-4580. For more information about the firm’s practice areas, you can also visit the firm’s Facebook and Twitter sites. Please “LIke” and “Follow” respectively to keep in touch!


[ii]Pro Publica: How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals? By Marshall Allen, Sep. 19, 2013.

[iv] Journal of Patient Safety: A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care. By James, John T. PhD, September 2013 – Volume 9 – Issue 3 – p 122-128

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