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What do 1,100 Jumbo Jets and Preventable Medical Errors have in Common?

How about a quick quiz?

Trivia Question #1: How many passengers fit in a typical jumbo jet?

Answer: Generally between 350 and 450, so let’s say an average of 400 passengers.

Trivia Question #2: How many premature deaths occur in U.S. hospitals each year, associated with preventable medical errors?

Answer: According to a recent article in the Journal of Patient Safety, enough to fill 1,100 jumbo jets each year – which equates to approximately 440,000 passengers. This is not a typo. The article is titled, “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care.”

If remotely accurate, this statistic is both disturbing and entirely unacceptable!

Using the 2010 census, the population of five counties in the greater Des Moines metropolitan area (Polk, Dallas, Warren, Madison, and Guthrie) was 569,633 people. If this article is correct, the entire population of the Des Moines metro area would be gone in 15.5 months due to preventable hospital errors. This would quickly demand our collective attention, don’t you think? Why hasn’t this been reported by the media? It finally has — in this article, “To Make Hospitals Less deadly, A Dose of Data.”

If the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were to include preventable medical errors in hospitals as a category, the conclusions found in this article would make it the third leading cause of death in the United States. Based on 2010 data, the CDC’s top five leading causes of death were:

  • Heart Disease – 597,689
  • Cancer – 574,743
  • Preventable Medical Errors Associated with Hospital Care – ~440,000
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases – 138,080
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases) – 129,476
  • Accidents (unintentional injuries) – 120,859

In 2000, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a seminal book, “To Err is Human.” This book revealed that as many as 98,000 people die every year due to medical errors. At the time, this number appeared to be bold – so bold that it was attacked by some. Now in 2013, another report suggests the IOM number is less than one-quarter of the true estimated casualties found in our nation’s hospitals.

I presume these medical errors occur regardless of having insurance coverage or not. Health insurance is certainly important for all Americans, but having it does not guarantee receiving safe care.

Without a doubt, Americans can agree that safe and efficient health care delivery is sorely needed. Having just one jumbo jet fall from the sky is entirely unacceptable.

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