When people are involved in an auto accident, the automatic response is to call the police, file a report, and for all parties involved to report the accident to their insurance company to determine liability and damages.  Similarly, when an extreme event such as a plane crash occurs, it is headline news and intense investigations follow the incident to determine exactly what happened and how to prevent such a tragedy in the future.  Yet, when medical malpractice occurs, the reaction is usually the exact opposite.  Hospitals, doctors, and even patients often go to great lengths to keep medical errors quiet and will conduct only the briefest investigation before filing the incident away.


I have no answers as to why this is, but I do know a lot can be gained from investigating a medical mistake.  A 1999 report from the US Institute of Medicine stated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year of preventable medical errors.  Preventable is the key word here.  Yet, despite this astonishing number, very little is being done to encourage the reporting of medical mistakes and even less to create a system that investigates these mistakes.  Perhaps this has to do with how our culture views medical professionals and the great respect we have for them.  I, myself, have a huge respect for the medical profession and am eternally grateful for the services they provide to my loved ones and the public.  However, I also understand that accidents happen and too often these accidents are deadly. 


There’s no shame in admitting you made a mistake, the shame lies in sweeping it under the rug and failing to learn from it.  If thousands of people really are dying every year from preventable medical mistakes, why aren’t we doing everything we can to truly prevent them from occurring?  Emergency room physician and author, Dr. Brain Goldman, discusses this in his book The Night Shift: Real Life in the Heart of the E.R..  Dr. Goldman admits that he’s human and has made medical mistakes, but he also acknowledges that medical professionals can learn a lot from these mistakes and considers himself a “student of medical malpractice.”


A project in Washington is currently underway which would encourage consumers to report medical mistakes and unsafe practices by medical professionals.  The American Hospital Association has said “it’s a great concept” and consumer groups have supported the initiative.  While reporting is voluntary, I would encourage anyone who has had an adverse medical event occur to report it.  By doing so, you may very well prevent the suffering of another patient.


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Filed under: Articles by Jennifer Crichton

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