A surgeon’s perspective on medical malpractice

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Oct 17, 2012 in Doctor Errors

There's no debate about the fact that medical errors are a major problem in America's health care system. Few of us, however, recognize just how big the problem is. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, surgeon Marty Makara put the problem in perspective and suggested some things that health care providers could do to dramatically reduce the number of injuries and deaths caused by medical malpractice .

Makara starts the article out by noting that medical errors kill enough people in the United States each week to fill four jumbo jets. (In West Virginia terms, that's roughly equivalent to wiping out the entire population of a town such as Barboursville every two weeks.) Unfortunately, he adds, the "same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers."

For example, Makara states that surgeons "operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week" and that if classified as a disease, medical errors "would be the sixth leading cause of death in America" today.

With figures like that in mind, Makara offered up a few simple yet critical reforms that would go a long way toward fixing the problem. Number one on his list: an online "dashboard" that would list the facility's surgical complications rates, infection rates and other data that would allow patients to make an informed decision about where to seek treatment.

Makara also suggested evidence-based evaluations, such as videotaping procedures so that performance can be reviewed more easily, and "safety culture" scores culled from anonymous staff surveys about the quality of teamwork (an important component of good patient care) at their institutions.

All of these suggestions, Makara says, would make the health care system more transparent, which in turn would reduce the number of medical malpractice-related patient injuries and deaths by providing poor-performing doctors, hospitals and other providers with a strong incentive to do better.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "How to Stop Hospitals From Killing Us," Marty Makary, September 21, 2012.

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