Happy summer everyone. I am relishing the beautiful weather and flowers, as well as the fresh vegetables and long hours of daylight!
I have been thinking a lot recently about how things are not always as they appear; often you need to dig a little deeper to find out the truth. So much of what we read these days is hype or selective reporting. Sadly, this is extremely true of medical information. I recently read an article about how Big Pharma (the pharmaceutical industrial complex) has made this into an art of sorts, and that if you take what you hear at face value, often you will be deceived.
More importantly, this topic came to mind because of an article that has received a tremendous amount of press in the media after it was published in the British Medical Journal.
Medical Error - The Third Leading Cause of Death
by Martin Makary and Michael Daniel
Dr. Martin A. Makary of Johns Hopkins and research fellow Michael Daniel wrote a paper stating that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US. This is quite alarming, and in medical circles has led to quite a bit of head scratching—this is not what any of us have experienced, so is it really the case? How could we be so unaware of the third leading cause of death?
Prior to this paper the data used to discuss rate of death from medical errors was from 1984. Dr. Makary does state that the 1984 study was not great science, however, they did find several good studies, reviewed the data, and came up with the figure of 251,000 deaths per year in the US from medical error.
It has been pointed out that Dr. Makary used 4 observational studies on incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2008, not exactly an accurate reflection of what the rate is now. More importantly, the patients in those 4 studies were dominated by inpatients in the Medicare community, a more risk prone group than the general public. In fact, the authors say “the assumptions made in extrapolating study data to the broader U.S. population may limit the accuracy of our figure”. Aha, maybe it’s not as accurate as it appears in a splashy headline in our newspaper.
Check out the analysis and rebuttal of the science in the article below.
ANALYSIS - Re: Medical Error - The Third Leading Cause of Death
by Kaveh G. Shojania
Cause of death is often multifactorial; a terminally ill patient may experience a medical error, but their underlying disease may be the majority of the cause of death. There is a huge and often unrecognized difference between an error and a bad outcome. All medical treatment has a risk of bad outcome even when no errors occur.
This is summed up very well in an article from Vinay Prasad on Stat News. "While the report in the BMJ — and the press release promoting it — sounded like researchers were on to something new, they were merely reminding us of old data."
Don't Believe What You Read on New Report of Medical Error Deaths
by Vinay Prasad
No one would disagree with the efforts to eliminate medical errors to the highest degree possible, and like many important aspects of healthcare, this is one that is underfunded, understudied, and often swept under the carpet. Yet, to overstate the incidence does not help the effort to decrease medical error.
As advocates we will never stop working to prevent medical errors from occurring, but we need to be careful not to see them around every corner where they may not exist.
Dr. Sima Kahn muses on being a healthcare advocate, the troubles with our healthcare system, and how to advocate for ourselves.