Medical Malpractice: Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Part 2

The other day I read an article about a study done by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that estimated 1.3 million fewer patients were injured or victims of some form of medical malpractice from 2010 to 2013 because of the great focus placed on efforts to reduce surgery site infections, medication issues, and other incidents caused by negligence that are deemed “preventable.”

This decline represents an overall 17% decrease in medical malpractice and means that an estimated 50,000 deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2013 as a result of the Partnership for Patients program, a public and private collaborated upon incentive that receives funding from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to the Deputy Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the decrease in malpractice is “an unprecedented decline in patient harm” in the United States, stating further that the great decrease shows that medical administrators in this country are “…avoiding costly mistakes and readmissions, keeping patients healthy and out of the hospital and rewarding quality instead of quantity.”

Then I read the story of a Massachusetts woman named Betsy Lehman, a Boston Globe health journalist who, in 1994, died after she received a substantial overdose of chemotherapy at one of Boston’s most prestigious oncology centers. Her story forged healthcare administrators and leaders in Boston and throughout New England to take strong, calculated steps to reduce medical malpractice and physician errors.

The problem here is that twenty years later, in 2014, a survey released this past Tuesday says that nearly 25% of those surveyed say that they, or someone dear to them, have experienced a medical mistake within the last five years. The survey further shows that half of that 25% who reported medical mistakes said that their medical errors ended up resulting in serious injuries and health consequences.

The survey included more than 1200 Massachusetts residents and was conducted by researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health. Those researchers found that oftentimes many people did not report their medical mistakes, citing that they didn’t believe “it would do any good” or that they simply just didn’t know how to report the problem.

Harvard professor of health policy and political analysis, Robert Blendon, says that “When you are trying to reduce incidents, and twenty years later you still…have a significant number of people who report a[n]…event, it sets off concerns.” Dr. Blendon is also the survey’s research director.

We’re in Pennsylvania and they’re in Massachusetts, so you may be wondering why we chose to blog about this. And the answer is quite simple: Massachusetts, and the Boston area in particular, has some of the finest medical facilities and physicians in the country, so what makes you think this isn’t a problem all over the country, particularly here in Pittsburgh where hospitals in the UPMC system and the Allegheny Health Network can often be too stubborn to acknowledge their mistakes. Case in point: the David Kwiatkowski “serial infector” debacle that embarrassed our region two years ago. And with the healthcare civil war that is taking place now in Western Pennsylvania, it adds to the reluctance of administrators to publish anything less than commendable.

The truth of the matter is that real clinical process improvements do not take place without real clarity. It isn’t about comparing one hospital to another or one system of healthcare to a rival system of healthcare; it’s about holding hospitals, their administrators, and their physicians accountable for the quality of patient care that they promised to uphold so many years ago.

Many of these “polls” are self-made endorsements masked in medical rhetoric and justifiable fibs. And, sadly, even many of today’s national surveys are out of date or avoid one glaring problem by leaving it out of the equation. Standards and benchmarks are lowered without the public knowing and are presented as a “step in the right direction” rather than an issue upon which we should begin to or continue to set a substantial amount of focus.

It bothers us as a medical malpractice firm that the public buys into these nefariously bloated stats without blinking an eye because they are simply misinformed. Hospital errors ARE a serious problem in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States. If you have been injured due to the negligence of a physician or other healthcare professional, call the Pittsburgh medical malpractice attorneys at Richards & Richards for a free consultation today at 866-740-3999 or 412-253-2092.

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