Harmed in the Hospital

In the opinion section of the News & Observer yesterday (1/20/11), Dr. James Bryan and Burton Craige wrote about a study published recently in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine that looked at the “shockingly high rate of preventable injuries to patients, and little or no improvement over time”…specifically in North Carolina hospitals.

Researchers looked at a random sample of hospital admissions between 2002 and 2007. As the newspaper opinion piece says, the results were sobering:

  • Patients admitted to a North Carolina hospital had a 1 in 5 chance of being harmed by the medical care they received.
  • 13.8 percent of the medically induced harms were extremely severe, causing a permanent or life-threatening injury, or death.
  • Most (63.1 percent) of the injuries were preventable. [all emphasis added by blogger]

Over the six years of the study, the researchers found no reduction in the rate of severe injuries.

What does this all mean? Nothing good. People go to hospitals when they need intensive help by medical trained to save lives. If such a large percentage of those lives are, instead, put at risk of greater harm, we have a personal and societal health crisis. The remedies are relatively simple: Better communication among the patients’ multiple health providers…proper and effective levels of staffing by nurses…greater compliance by doctors and nurses with basic infection prevention methods, including the most basic of all–washing hands before touching a patient.

Perhaps the most important thing we, as a society, can do to reverse these frightening statistics is to give insurance companies less influence over patient care. Let doctors do the doctoring, and keep insurance companies far in the background. While insurance companies try to manage the care given to sick patients, they are also banding together with hospitals to try to put limits on the rights of people to take legal action in the event they are harmed by medical care.

The result could be devastating: Patients who are harmed by preventable bad hospital practices may lose their legal right to seek recompense. It’s not like there is another option. If you need a hospital, you have to go to a hospital. Shouldn’t we expect the best possible care? Shouldn’t doctors and nurses care enough about the honor of their profession to do what’s right for patients?

Maybe I’m too naive about the business of medicine. I always believed medicine was a calling, taken up by intelligent, righteous people who had a desire to heal. How could the system have gotten so cold?

At HensonFuerst, we take the rights of patients seriously. We fight everyday to make sure that people who are seriously injured by preventable hospital or medical staff errors are compensated for this type of heartless (and artless) treatment. If you believe you’ve been harmed by a medical error and want to discuss your legal rights, please don’t hesitate to contact our compassionate lawyers at 1-800-4LAW-MED. Or visit our website at www.hensonfuerst.com. If you have questions, HensonFuerst has answers.

To read the full opinion piece, click here: News & Observer article

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