In the United States, medical errors are estimated to be the third-leading cause of death. Indeed, a study in the Journal of Patient Safety published in 2013 criticized outdated estimates, and put the number at approximately 440,000 annual deaths in the United States from medical errors. You read that number correctly. It would represent one-sixth of American deaths, annually.
This was an update from a 1999 study in ProPublica, “To Err Is Human,” which estimated the number at greater than 98,000 annual deaths. No one knows the actual number. Hospitals do not conclusively document deaths due to “medical error.” Doctors do not have a standard means to report such deaths. Health systems object to any kind of centralized database, often citing “privacy concerns.”
Virtually all people who provide care do so out of love and humanitarian concerns. However, medical training does not traditionally teach them to acknowledge error. And the administrators and risk managers in the healthcare system are fundamentally against admission of any errors.
This is a system where errors are hidden and ignored. Those errors include surgeries, medication interactions, failures to detect or diagnose, falls, or other serious errors. The annual number would be in the millions. However, the combination of deaths and physical injuries still does not account for the psychological harm.
The subject of the mental and emotional harms from medical errors was recently discussed in Health Leaders Media in a discussion with Sigall Bell, M.D., director of patient safety and quality initiatives at the Institute of Professionalism and Ethical Practice. Bell’s Institute is affiliated with Harvard Medical School. She is director of patient safety and discovery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
Bell explained that the impacts of medical errors are broad: affecting physical, financial, emotional, psychological, and socio-behavioral aspects of the patient’s life. The initial trauma or the long-term changes in a patient’s life can linger and can affect how the person sees themselves, the world, and gets through their lives. Even a sincere apology has a meaningful positive impact on the injured person.
The lawyers of Coogan Gallagher understand that the challenges resulting from a medical error are wide-ranging, far beyond the injury itself. You have dealt with financial challenges. You have dealt with motivational challenges–the effort to get out of bed and go to grueling therapy sessions. The overall weight of all the bills, appointments, equipment, and more doctors and more nurses can be overwhelming.
Finally, we understand these things. Our job is to make the legal challenges of your case easier to understand and lessen the burden. If you or a loved one has questions about medical care that may have caused improper harm, please call our lawyers to schedule a meeting to discuss your case.