Forbes Magazine has an informative article on the frequency of hospitals making mistakes while caring for patients, pointing out that 1.5 million Americans fall victim to such errors every single year.
Some of these errors occur through sheer carelessness: for example, 100,000 people a year die from “superbugs,” bacteria that are resistant to available antibiotics. Infections from these superbugs can frequently be prevented by hand-washing. Yet other errors are the system’s fault and not the fault of any individual. They occur because of overcrowding and the consequent inability of doctors and nurses to spend sufficient time with each patient.
The article also cites an Auburn University study showing that hospitals administer the wrong drug one time out of five. The dosage of the drug is another common source of error. A famous recent example of a drug error is from last November when actor Dennis Quaid’s newborn twins were given 1,000 times the intended dose of the blood-thinner heparin. Luckily the hospital detected the error before permanent damage was done.
What is the bottom line? There are no magical solutions, especially since most of these problems are systemic. As a doctor quoted in the article says: “If you’re sick, the best way to avoid getting sicker is to take charge of your care.” Asking questions and being unafraid to make demands is the most any individual patient, or their loved ones, can do to reduce risk of error.