Back in 1999, the U.S. Institute of Medicine dropped a bombshell on the health care industry. It reported that anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 people were dying in the nation's hospitals every year due to medical negligence and errors committed in the operating rooms, emergency rooms and recovery wards.
The thing that was so shocking about the news was that the issues that led to those fatalities could have been prevented if concerted effort had been made to set up and follow processes to make sure mistakes didn't happen.
Ever since then, hospitals all over the country have been striving to make improvements. In Oregon, this effort is represented in the efforts of the Oregon Patient Safety Commission. In other states, reformers may be following the banner carried by a group called the Patient Safety Movement.
The latest reports on the safety improvement movement suggest that progress is being made. At the same time, analysis of the data also seems to support the conclusion that there is still more work to be done.
Two reports in particular seem to reflect the challenge that remains. According to one by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued in December, the rate of hospital-acquired conditions had fallen 17 percent from 2010 to 2013. Analysts estimate that translated into 50,000 wrongful deaths prevented and a savings of some $12 billion.
But in January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report on hospital-transmitted infections. Its numbers also showed reductions, but hospitals hadn't hit any of the targets that had been set under a 2009 plan for reining in six specific infection types.
Hospitals all over the country deserve a lot of credit for trying to do what they can to ensure that preventable mistakes don't happen. But what the recent studies show is that we're not there yet. When mistakes do occur, whether in the form of surgical error, misdiagnosis or some other negligent action, victims should know what their rights are for pursuing compensation. Consulting an experienced attorney is the way to do that.