There is no denying that the AARP is a powerful force in American politics. That is why the Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell are so encouraged to see the AARP speaking out on medical malpractice in American hospitals. We hope that, with the attention and pressure the AARP can bring, hospitals will at last get serious about stopping preventable medical errors.
The estimates provided in the AARP’s report may shock many of the organization’s members, but they are well-known to our experienced medical malpractice lawyers. For instance, the AARP notes that about 100,000 Americans are killed each year, in U.S. hospitals, by preventable medical errors. Indeed, one in seven hospitalized Medicare patients suffers a serious medical error – and nearly half of these errors are classified as “preventable.”
Other studies have found that one-third of hospital patients suffer some sort of medical harm during their stay. Indeed, an astonishing 40 times per week, a U.S. surgeon performs surgery on the wrong body part – or the wrong person entirely.
In short, as the AARP emphasized, the number of deaths from medical malpractice in the U.S. each year is the equivalent of four fully-loaded jumbo jets crashing – each week. If these crashes were occurring, U.S. residents would not sit calmly by, but would demand that the problem be fixed. Yet because hospital deaths are less visible, the public outcry is missing.
The AARP has also taken aim at the culture of concealment in U.S. hospitals, noting that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that around 86 percent of medical errors are not reported.
Many solutions to this ongoing problem have now been proposed – several of which we have previously discussed – including the use of safety checklists, making data on medical errors publicly-available, and simply forcing all hospital workers to regularly wash and sterilize their hands. The AARP’s members may be shocked to learn that studies show that only roughly half of hospital workers follow established hand-washing guidelines. In any other industry (take airline pilots, for example), workers would be fired or at least disciplined for failing to follow basic safety procedures. So why is this disregard for safety permitted to persist in hospitals?
So, how can patients protect themselves from hospital medical errors? The AARP makes several suggestions, including:
• Do not assume that hospital workers know who you are or why you are there.
• Bring or hire an advocate to be with you, particularly at admission and checkout.
• Keep track, in writing, of all medications, when they are taken, and who prescribed them, as well as the names of all individuals who participate in your care
• Bring hand sanitizer with you, and keep it visible by your bed.
Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys would also recommend other measures: first and foremost, insisting that each doctor, nurse, and other worker wash his or her hands immediately upon entering the room. Most importantly, stay involved in your care. Ask questions, be assertive, and ask to speak to other doctors or staff when necessary.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.