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Do 100,000 Deaths Make A Difference?

The answer is no.

100,000 deaths a year--even 200,000 deaths--are considered acceptable losses.  Collateral damage in a system considered too unique to challenge.  Losses deemed to be balanced by the system's benefits.

That system? US Healthcare.  Nearly 100,000 people die annually from infections acquired in the hospital, not the original condition for which they sought treatment. About 100,000 people die annually from properly taking FDA-approved medications; another 7,000 die from medication errors in hospitals.

The article that was considered the first to print the numbers appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association 2000.  It can be found here, and includes citations.

And just in case the thought comes up that things must have changed in the last dozen years, here is a more recent article from Dr. Makary, cancer surgeon and researcher at Johns Hopkins.  He discusses that 1 in 4 hospital patients are harmed by a medical error (a claim supported by research performed by the Office of Inspector General, US Department of Health and Human Services, examining healthcare of Maedicare patients), the lack of evidence supporting many medical interventions, the notion that "more must be better," and how blind trust of the system is one of the biggest obstacles to changing it.

It's tempting to brush that aside with claims the research only looks at sick people who are more likely to die anyway, and healthcare delivery is really too complicated to reform.  Sorry--I don't accept that, and the researchers made clear distinctions regarding cause of death.  Besides, it smacks of the level of dismissal and disdain heaped upon handwashing when it was first introduced as a way to reduce death from infection following chidbirth.  At the time, it was just accepted that women were likely to die in childbirth, and thus there was no reason to do anything different.  Today, if you look around for ways hospitals are seeking to reduce the spread of infection, you'll find a huge amount of resources STILL being expended to promote handwashing.

(BTW, other effective interventions include trimming hair around a surgical site rather than shaving it, and keeping patients warm following surgery.  So complicated!)

If we keep up with the current course of action--and thus far, there is nothing in healthcare reform that leads me to believe such changes are even on the radar--we can expect more articles like this:Research from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine repeats what has been known for a decade: Americans are sicker, and more likely to die younger, than people in other countries.  "The report finds that this health disadvantage exists at all ages from birth to age 75 and that even advantaged Americans -- those who have health insurance, college educations, higher incomes, and healthy behaviors -- appear to be sicker than their peers in other rich nations."

So.  Over 200,000 deaths per year.  Thus far, it's been completely acceptable.  I suspect it'll be deemed acceptable for years to come, and seen as a mere cost of healthcare.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jan. 13th, 2013 05:47 pm (UTC)
How frightening!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


Blair MacGregor

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