The United States is undergoing a "medical error crisis," and it is not doing enough to fix it. After recent news reports revealed that more than 250,000 deaths occur annually due to medical error, an editorial in U.S. News and World Report commented that "the lack of a response from political leaders, the heads of major hospitals, insurance companies, medical societies and physician groups is inexplicable."
Unfortunately, one of the big reasons why so little is being done to fix the issue is because the medical system is so large and unwieldy. The complexities in the system were cited as a reason for failures both in the U.S. News article as well as in a recent article from Scientific American.
While there have been many advances and new developments in treatment methods that have added to the complexity of the system, this is not an excuse for doctors and healthcare providers to fail patients.
The Scientific American article provided details of a scenario in which a patient died of pneumonia. He had been admitted to the hospital and started on antibiotics based on standard guidelines. Unfortunately, the pneumonia did not respond to the antibiotics and the patient died 72 hours later. The doctor spoke with the man's daughter, who indicated he had previously been hospitalized for pneumonia two months prior.
The doctor obtained the lab results from the prior hospital and discovered an unusual bacteria had caused the pneumonia, and there were only a few antibiotics which were effective in treating it. None of those antibiotics was used, and a wholly preventable death happened.
This was just one of many examples where access to medical records was not available and where lives could have been saved if doctors had the proper information. The article explained many other difficulties faced by doctors because of incomplete information. With so many different drugs and so many therapeutic procedures, there are lots of ways for doctors to miss essential information when providing care.
This can lead to problems like the one which caused the death by pneumonia. It can also create issues when patients are prescribed one treatment which conflicts with another, such as when different doctors give a patient multiple drugs that end up reacting badly with each other.
In some cases, the mistake is cannot be prevented because doctors cannot know everything about a patient's medical history. In other circumstances, however, doctors are expected to find out about drug interactions or previous procedures- and a failure to do so can be considered medical malpractice.
The complexity of the healthcare system can also make medical malpractice claims difficult, as it can be hard to show whether the mistake was a justifiable one or whether it was a failure to provide an acceptable level of care. If patients are uncertain as to whether a medical error constitutes malpractice, they should consult with a legal professional to determine if they should pursue a case for compensation for medical negligence.