Hospitals have a phrase they use to describe their mistakes. It’s “preventable patient harm.”
That doesn’t sound so terrible.
But here’s what it really means:
- A woman underwent genetic testing and was told she was at high risk for developing the type of cancer that killed her mother. So she had preventive surgery. Her breasts, ovaries, and uterus were removed.
Follow-up tests revealed that her doctor had read her genetic test wrong. She was not at risk for cancer. She had all that surgery for nothing.
- A 51-year-old man needed his right leg amputated because of diabetes. Doctors accidentally amputated his left one. He eventually had the correct leg removed and had to learn to live with no legs.
- A woman was undergoing surgery when doctors accidentally set her on fire. A cauterizing tool set aflame an alcohol-based disinfectant. The woman suffered third-degree burns and eventually died.
These kind of horrific blunders are shockingly common. Medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. They cause more deaths than Alzheimer’s and diabetes combined.
Now, a new study shows that one in 20 patients is a victim of “preventable patient harm.”
The research was published in the journal The BMJ. Findings were based on 70 observational studies involving more than 337,000 patients.
The data revealed:
- Twelve percent of preventable medical errors lead to permanent disability or death.
- The majority of preventable harm is caused by invasive procedures, medication, and other treatments.
- Preventable harm adds $9.3 billion to health care costs in the U.S.
Another recent study shows that misdiagnosis is a big part of the problem.
- Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine analyzed more than 11,000 medical malpractice claims. They found that up to 160,000 Americans are misdiagnosed each year. And misdiagnoses contribute to up to 80,000 deaths a year.
Why do doctors screw up so often?
One big reason is burn out…
How to Tell if Your Doctor Is Burned Out
Don’t put your health—and possibly your life—in the hands of a physician who’s too busy and tired to provide you with good medical care.
Ask these five questions to determine if your doctor is suffering burnout:
Does your doctor work in a large practice? Only 13% of doctors in small, independent primary care practices report burnout. The national average is more than 50%, according to a study by the New York University School of Medicine. The independence doctors enjoy in smaller practices may decrease burnout.
Does your doctor pay attention? During appointments, does your doctor show active interest in your case? Does he or she answer all of your questions? Does your physician dismiss your complaints due to age or stress? A doctor should never blame ills on “old age” or “just stress” without giving you a real diagnosis. This is a sign the doctor doesn’t have the time or energy to fully investigate your problem.
Is your doctor overbooked? Do you sit in the waiting room for long periods of time? Does he or she rush you through appointments? Doctors who stretch themselves too thin are more likely to suffer burnout.
Are you getting better? If your health problem is not improving, don’t wait to take action. Your doctor should tell you how long it will take before a treatment starts to work. If the deadline passes without improvement, and you’re told to just give it more time, it’s a sign the doctor doesn’t have the energy to try something else.
And one more thing…
Ask your doctor how many patients he or she has. Less than 2,000 is best. Anything over 2,300 is a red flag that your doctor may be stretched too thin.