Medical Error Kills Thousands
Perhaps you’ve read this startling study published recently: if we actually tallied them properly, medical errors would be the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer. We’re talking 250,000 inpatients annually.
That was published in the British Medical Journal, a well-respected resource for the medical world. It turns out death certificates don’t presently have a box to check when medical error caused a patient’s death.
Did the Doctors of the World Eat Humble Pie?
Perhaps some did, but the most vocal screamed out loud and long against the findings!
Garbage,” “tripe,” “extrapolated hogwash,” and “bogus.”
Still others described them as
outrageous,” “absurd,” “insulting,” and “a joke.”
Now, doctors are scientists, aren’t they? I seem to recall studying a lot of biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and so on to get my degree.
Let’s see what defines “science” for a moment:
- At it’s root, it’s from Latin scientia, from scire, ‘know.’
- How do we come to know something? Usually from observation, often with added experimentation
- That suggests inquiry, a wondering, a desire to describe the workings of the natural world
It often involves what’s come to be known as the “scientific method.” That encompasses five stages:
- Observation: simply noting something around you, like people dying of some unknown or poorly defined cause.
- Hypothesis: having an idea that might explain what you’re seeing. “Maybe there was some mistake in dosing or a drug incompatibility that lead to these deaths.”
- Prediction: “If this hypothesis is true, we should be able to find it in the patient records by careful examination.”
- Experimentation: setting up a test to see if your hypothesis is correct or not.
- Conclusion: based on your results, you can either accept your hypothesis (because your experimental findings support it) or reject it, if the opposite is true.
There are variations of this, but that’s pretty much how science marches forward to add to our understanding of how things work. We observe, we test, we make conclusions.
All of this is to say that inquiry requires an open mind. We’d have not much progress if it weren’t for curious, open minds who strove to better understand things.
The Bigger They Are…
I’ve been learning lately that we in the human world don’t like to be called out on our faults. Like being told we are doing things wrongly, made a mistake, acted poorly, handled something badly.
Doctors are generally held in high regard by society (though probably far less than sports figures, but I digress).
For them to hear they’ve actually been involved in harming patients?
A great example is Dr. Semmelweis, wondering why so many women having babies in hospitals in the 1800’s were dying of puerperal fever. The good doctor had a hypothesis: it might be because the med students of his day often went from autopsies to child deliveries without washing their hands (!).
He somehow got everyone washing up and the death rate in newly delivered moms plummeted!
How did the doctors of the day react to his amazing discovery? It wasn’t, erm, welcomed with hearty congratulations.
So, ego can easily get in the way when our wrong behavior is brought to light. Ugly behavior often ensues instead of reparation and humility.
Wouldn’t This Be Refreshing?
Humble pie, can you smell it? Mmm mm.
But, how about going beyond the usual tepid, “This needs more research,” right into, “We clearly need to change our ways, STAT!”
Humble pie with expresso!
And way, way beyond, “Balderdash! We’re doctors! We don’t make mistakes!”
That pie is laced with hubris! Yechh!
I’m sure these mistakes happen in veterinary medicine as well. Knowingly or unknowingly or just plain ignoring-ly.
- “I don’t care what the research says about duration of immunity, we vaccinate annually!”
- “The only way to keep your animal free of fleas is with these poisons! Squeeze them on your animal and go wash your hands thoroughly!”
- “Heartworm is a deadly disease! Only way to prevent it is to feed your dog these pesticides every month. If she gets a little sick for a few days, so what? It’s better than dying of heart failure, right? Oh, and you might as well give them year round. You never know when a mosquito might pop in and bite old Rover.”
- Raw food? That’s crazy talk! The good scientists at Hill’s have Prescription Diets for everything that ails your pet. Look at that label: you could never make it this good at home!”
Tell us in the comments if you think this mental shift is possible or if we have to take it to the grass roots. Vote with our pocketbooks.
Maybe you’ve had experiences that color your answer.
Well informed is well armed, in my mind.