#53 Medical Mistakes: The 3rd Largest Cause of Death. How Do We Fix It?

Medical errors are America's third largest cause of death. Only heart disease and cancer have a higher body count. 

A new report estimates that about 250,000 Americans die each year because of screw-ups in hospitals, doctors' offices and other medical settings.  In 2013, research by NASA's chief toxicologist put the number at as many as 440,000.

In this episode of "How Do We Fix It?", Pittsburgh-based lawyer James Lieber brings a passion for practical solutions to a widespread problem. James has spent more than a decade researching medical errors after his friend and mentor died from a prescription overdose following a lung transplant. Last month, his provocative and practical op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, "How To Make Hospitals Less Deadly", caught our attention. (Note: readers can get behind the Journal's paywall by pasting the link at news.google.com).

His recent book is "Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death, And What Can Be Done About It" 

Solutions:

  • Standard medical records.  All medical information about a patient should be available in the exam room with a few clicks. Despite efforts by Congress and the Obama Administration to reach this goal, many online medical records are on closed systems, unavailable to hospitals and doctors when they need them most. 
  • Structured handoffs. Miscommunication can happen during shift changes in hospitals or when a patient is transferred to a new room or different section of the hospital. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggested adverse events could be reduced 30% by structured handoffs.
  • Bring in pharmacists. In many cases, they have more up-to-date knowledge than doctors about how drugs interact with diet, age, disease and each other.
  • Get serious about infections. Adopt guidelines from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  According to the CDC, more than 700,000 patients become infected while hospitalized each year.
  • Reduce diagnostic error.  Improve communications between doctors, surgeons, nurses, pathologists and radiologists.