One hundred thousand preventable deaths from medical errors in hospitals each year: That is the usual statistic cited by patient safety advocates. It comes from a 10-year-old report issued by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. The fact is, though, that the death and injury rate could be substantially higher. No one is sure, because no one is counting “adverse events” in a rigorous, systematic way, and evidence keeps piling up that hospitals under-report these events to health authorities and worse, cover them up.
An investigation by the New York Daily News of the city’s municipal hospital system — with eleven hospitals and 1.1 million patients treated last year, the nation’s busiest city-run system — found dozens of examples of failures to report egregious errors, and subsequent cover-ups including alteration of medical records to make it look like nothing had gone wrong.
The Daily News reported:
The coverups hid a trail of human suffering among patients who were maimed and relatives who were never told the truth about how their loved ones died or were injured unnecessarily.
The newspaper found a pattern of failures by state health authorities to act on evidence of fraudulent behavior in covering up the injuries. Moreover, it found that the state reporting agency itself was dysfuctional. According to the article:
The state is supposed to track and analyze all medical incidents and implement improvements. The problem is this oversight system – the New York Patient Occurrence Reporting and Tracking System (NYPORTS) – is a disaster.
Since 1999, all New York hospitals have been required to self-report a long list of medical incidents to NYPORTS, which in turn analyzes the incidents and implements patient safety reform.
Sunday NYPORTS barely functions. The Statewide Council that oversees it hasn’t met in more than two years. Though NYPORTS is supposed to release “annual” reports, the last one filed is dated 2004.
To avoid needless injury, patients have to be vigilant about their own health care. That is why I wrote my book, “The Life You Save,” which lays out a system of nine simple steps for patients to follow to get the best medical care and avoid the too-frequent disasters that happen in our fragmented care system.