Medical Errors Still a Leading Killer

An article in the November 9, 2004 issue of the Boston Globe critically examines the rate of medical errors. The article starts off by recalling that five years ago a medical report titled, “To Err is Human” was published that exposed the large problem of medical errors.

The original report in 1999 called for a drastic reduction in medical mistakes. It revealed that accidental overdoses, infections and other care-giver errors had become a leading cause of death. Up to 98,000 US patients dying annually, the authors declared, “it would be irresponsible to expect anything less than a 50 percent reduction in errors over five years.”

Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health and an original co-author of “To Err is Human”, notes that not much has improved in five years. “The evidence of improvement is indeed unimpressive. It’s hard to get away from that.” He continues, “The problem of medical errors is immense.” In comparing medical mistakes to airline safety records, Dr Leape said hospital patients are at least 1,000 times more likely to die from mistakes than airline passengers.

The article noted that tracking medical errors has gotten more difficult instead of easier. This has occurred in part because Congress, under pressure from the hospital industry, rejected the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to create a mandatory national reporting system to track medical errors.

Janet Corrigan of the Institute of Medicine, study director for the original errors report stated her disappointment in the lack of progress. “Many of us who worked very closely on this project had hoped that we would have made more progress by now.” She continued, “We do realize that what we’re trying to change is one-seventh of the economy. The health-care sector is tough to turn around.”