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Despite people’s widespread fear of flying the fact is that you are much more likely to die in a hospital as a result of negligence than you are in a plane crash. According to Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital and an expert in patient safety, around a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind.
In fact, according to Dr. Makary, medical errors cause more deaths than Alzheimer’s Disease does and they cause almost as many deaths as auto accidents do every year in the United States. Also, lawsuits, unnecessary tests, unnecessary procedures, unnecessary medication and the other costs of negligence cost the U.S. healthcare system tens of billions a year.
Medical malpractice is a major problem that routinely occurs. Still, it gets relatively little press. Negligence in the medical profession rarely comes to the forefront of the world’s attention. This lack of exposure, along with the public’s failure to demand change, reduces the incentive of the medical profession to improve.
So lawsuits designed to punish medical malpractice may instead be having the unintended effect of causing the industry to tend to cover up incompetence. Instead of focusing on actually preventing negligence the medical community is focused on minimizing financial loss.The medical community is most likely learning more about the legal strategies used in order to minimize financial loss than it is learning about improving its practices in regard to preventing negligence. Some of these strategies, such as requiring that victims not talk publically about their case in order to receive settlements, are aimed at silencing critics and sweeping the problem under the rug.
Fighting A Culture of Silence
It is important to combat the culture in the medical profession that allows incompetence to flourish by encouraging silence. The culture of the American healthcare profession actively discourages calling out incompetence. This is widely known and so thinly veiled that doctors and other medical professionals sometimes even joke about it. The importance placed on reputation in the medical profession leads people to be reluctant to attack a person’s livelihood by calling them out as incompetent. Potential whistle blowers are also reluctant to come forward because of the threat that retaliation poses to their own careers.
Healthcare workers should be encouraged to speak up, it may save a life. Some human error is unavoidable and it takes teamwork to catch more of these errors. If lower level workers are afraid to speak up to doctors errors can be missed. Administrators should not be afraid to limit the duties of doctors and other healthcare workers who show deficiencies in some areas. Also, something as simple as the increased use of cameras to observe the behaviour of hospital employees would go a long way in encouraging employees to follow best practices at all times. If cameras are used it is important to make recordings for regular review if any benefit is to be derived.
The Need for Transparency
The culture of silence and the overall lack of transparency are major barriers to improvement. Even highly regarded hospitals often escape scrutiny by failing to publish safety records. This means that the public lacks the information necessary to make an informed choice when choosing a hospital. Often people just choose the hospital with the most status, or they choose whatever hospital is closest to them. This seems ridiculous when these same people can and do perform meticulous research on such relatively trivial purchases as new gadgets and restaurant meals.
Old technology such as the cameras can be used more effectively to further the goal of transparency and accountability. New technology, such as cloud computing for example, is being developed all the time and could potentially be utilized to change the old hospital code of silence by increasing transparency and access to information. They have access to a large quantity of fairly reliable information when doing so as well. The answer is to increase transparency in healthcare so that people can have access to the information that would allow them to make informed decisions. This would also provide more incentive for the hospitals to improve. In the past, increased reporting requirements in some areas have led to improved safety records.
Patients also should take some responsibility and take an active role in reviewing their own medical records with their physicians. Unfortunately, errors in the record can crop up. By actively reviewing their own records and alerting their doctor to possible errors some mistakes can be avoided. In the end it will be public demand and the resultant governmental action that will be most effective in providing the necessary transparency in the healthcare industry.