Top Ten List of Medical “Accidents” that Can Kill You in the Hospital:
#1. Misdiagnosis. The most common type of medical error is error in diagnosis.
A wrong diagnosis can result in treatment delays, sometimes with deadly
consequences. Sometimes more effort has been placed into creating a
list of what you don’t have rather than pointing to what is really wrong
inside of you.
#2. Unnecessary treatment. Nearly every week there
is a news story of some doctor or hospital that has been found guilty of
prescribing unnecessary treatment that costs people their lives.
#3. Unnecessary tests and deadly procedures. Studies show that $700 billion is spent every year on unnecessary tests and treatments. Not only is this costly, it can also be deadly. CT scans increase your lifetime risk of cancer,
and dyes from CTs and MRIs can cause kidney failure. Even a simple
blood draw can result in infection. This is not to say that you should
never have a test done; only to be aware that there are risks involved,
and to always ask why a test or procedure is needed.
#4. Medication mistakes. A grave concern is the number of wrong medications given to patients; a 2006 Institute of Medicine report estimated that medication errors injure 1.5 million Americans every year at a cost of $3.5 billion.
#5. “Never events”. Virtually everyone has heard the
story of operating on wrong limb or the wrong patient. There are more
horror stories. Food meant to go into stomach tubes go into chest tubes,
resulting in severe infections. Air bubbles go into IV catheters,
resulting in strokes. Sponges, wipes, and even scissors are left in
people’s bodies after surgery. These are all “never events”, meaning that they should never happen, but they do, often with deadly consequences.
#6. Uncoordinated care. In our changing healthcare
system, the idea of having “your” doctor is becoming a relic of the
past. If you’re going to the hospital, chances are that you won’t be
taken care of by your regular doctor, but by the doctor on call. You’ll
probably see several specialists, who scribble notes in charts but
rarely coordinate with each other. You may end up with two of the same
tests, or medications that interfere with each other. There could be
lack of coordination between your doctor and your nurse, which can also
result in confusion and medical error.
#7. Infections, from the hospital to you. According to the Centers for Disease Control,
hospital-acquired infections affect 1.7 million people every year.
These include pneumonias, infections around the site of surgery, urinary
infections from catheters, and bloodstream infections from IVs. Such
infections often involve bacteria that are resistant to many
antibiotics, and can be deadly (the CDC estimates nearly 100,000 deaths due to them every year), especially to those with weakened immune systems.
#8. Not-so-accidental “accidents”. Every year, 500,000 patients “fall” while in the hospital. Just as many “accidents” occur due to malfunctioning medical devices.
Defibrillators don’t shock; hip implants stop working; pacemaker wires
break. There are supposed to be safeguards to prevent these problems
from happening, but even if they happen in 1 in 100 people, do you want
to be that one person who experiences the “accident”?
#9. Missed warning signs. When patients get worse,
there is usually a period of minutes to hours where there are warning
signs. You may feel worse, and there are often changes in your heart
rate, blood pressure, and other measurements. Unfortunately, these
warning signs are frequently missed, so that by the time they are
finally noticed, there could have been irreversible damage.
#10. Going home?—not so fast. Studies show that 1 in 5 Medicare patients return
to the hospital within 30 days of discharge from the hospital. This
could be due to patients being discharged before they are ready,
without understanding their discharge information, without adequate follow-up, or if there are complications with their care. The transition from hospital to home is one of the most vulnerable times, and miscommunication and misunderstanding can kill you after you get home from the hospital too.
Hospitals recognize these medical errors as a significant problem, and they are taking steps to make care safer.
These new estimates were developed by John T. James, a toxicologist at NASA‘s space center in Houston who runs an advocacy organization called Patient Safety America. James has also written a book about the death of his 19-year-old son after what James maintains was negligent hospital care.
By extrapolating across 34 million hospitalizations in 2007 combined
with his findings, James concluded that preventable errors contribute to
the deaths of 210,000 hospital patients annually.
That is the baseline. The actual number more than doubles, James
explains, because the trigger tool doesn’t catch errors in which
treatment should have been provided but wasn’t. It’s known that medical
records are missing some evidence of harm and diagnostic errors aren’t
An estimate of 440,000 deaths from care in hospitals “is roughly
one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year,”
James wrote in his study. He also cited other research showing that
hospital reporting systems and peer-reviews capture only a fraction of
patient harm or negligent care.
Many doctors, researchers and scientists agree with the evidence
presented by John T. James. Three prominent patient safety researchers
reviewed James’ study and all said his methods and findings were
Dr. Lucian Leape, a Harvard pediatrician who is referred to as the “father of patient safety,” was on the committee that wrote the “To Err Is Human” report. He has confidence in the studies and the estimate by James.
Dr. David Classen, said the James study is a “great contribution.” He
said it’s important to update the numbers from the “To Err Is Human”
report because in addition to the obvious suffering, preventable harm
leads to enormous financial costs.
Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital whose book Unaccountable calls
for greater transparency in health care, said the James estimate shows
that eliminating medical errors must become a national priority. He said
it’s also important to increase the awareness of the potential of
unintended consequences when doctors perform procedure and tests. The
risk of harm needs to be factored into conversations with patients, he
Leape, Classen and Makary all said it’s time to stop citing the 98,000 number.
Dr. David Mayer, vice president of quality and safety at Maryland-based MedStar Health,
said people can make arguments about how many patient deaths are
hastened by poor hospital care, but that’s not really the point. All the
estimates, even on the low end, expose a crisis, he said. “Way too many
people are being harmed by unintentional medical error,” Mayer said,
“and it needs to be corrected.”
What’s the right number? Nobody knows for sure. There’s never been an
actual count of how many patients experience preventable harm. So we’re
left with approximations, which are imperfect in part because of
inaccuracies in medical records and the reluctance of some providers to
This might sound to some that we are bashing doctors. Actually, we
respect those in the medical profession. They are some of the most
caring and dedicated people in the world. They give and give and give to
The problem isn’t the medical staff but rather their patients. If
people would only build stronger immune systems and live healthier
lifestyles they wouldn’t be so susceptible to the diseases many are
experiencing. We can blame the medical establishment all we want but
they aren’t the ones who are consuming the wrong foods and exposing
themselves to unhealthy substances. They are just the ones left with
trying to fix the problems.
So, keep your immune system strong and avoid the next medical crisis
that might lead to you becoming one of the statics. And, if you are
currently fighting something – change things now. Å strong immune system
will not only keep you healthier in the hospital it will help your body
Is it any wonder that Dr. Malkmus has spent the better part of his
life trying to convince people that “You don’t have to be sick?”