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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Unpreventable Medical Mistakes

I'm looking at a flyer for a seminar titled "Medical Errors in Hospitals: Cause and Prevention". A quote (hopefully not out of context) from the description/abstract: "Medical errors in hospitals are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States - killing approximately 100,000 people per year. Two thirds of these deaths could be prevented."

Well gee. If one third of these deaths could not be prevented, what was the medical error? The patient would have died anyway. If someone is dying, and nothing you as a physician do matters, why is it a medical error? If an error occurred, then maybe you mistakenly caused additional pain, or omitted appropriate palliative care?

Errors that kill someone, who otherwise would have left the hospital is as major an error as it gets. If there is a death, but it isn't preventable, any error in care is of lesser impact. Errors that don't kill someone are of lesser stature, though potentially pretty egregious still...

I would say that the abstract should state that 67,000 preventable deaths occurred. The un-preventable deaths should be omitted.

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