A recent CBS News story, citing to a study conducted by Johns Hopkins, has revealed that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the Unites States, second only to heart disease and cancer. Moreover, tonight Fox News aired a special segment on “the need for more transparency,” issuing further insights that identify where the medical errors may exist and possible solutions.
These medical errors can present themselves in a variety of ways, including communication breakdowns in the hospital triaging process, diagnostic errors, medication mistakes, post treatment instruction errors, and hospital-borne illnesses.
So how did we let this happen? The blame came be placed on a couple of ubiquitous, systemic and chronic failures, as deadly as a disease itself. The various levels of government, with the help of both the legal system and the health insurance industry, has created a moral hazard by allowing for improper enforcement and by failing to root out medical mistakes.
The first failure is that the legal system does not discourage errors! The litany of laws indemnifying doctors and hospitals are used as a shield of protection from liability. Also, the fact that twenty-eight states require a certificate of merit (an opinion from a qualified physician stating that the physician has reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records and that, in the physician’s opinion, the defendants were more likely than not negligent in treating the plaintiff) before the filing of a medical malpractice case creates a barrier that prevents plaintiffs from getting the keys to the courthouse, denies them their day in court, and further exacerbates the crisis. Many doctors have even stopped carrying malpractice insurance, not because of the expense, but because they do not perceive the risk of lawsuits as concerning.
The second failure is the convergence and confusion of “healthcare” and “health insurance.” The blurring of the two has prevented many from receiving proper health care. The crux of the problem was succinctly stated by my good friend David Goldhill, who tragically lost his father to a hospital-borne infection, “[h]ow has a method of financing health care become synonymous with care itself?” By providing subsidies that have driven out market forces, the government has contributed to the creation of the monster that is the health insurance industry. This monster has now so grown so great it swallowed up what used to be “health care” and helped create the third biggest killer in the U.S.
So who do we have to thank for this crisis? First, we can thank ourselves, and then we can thank our elected officials and our government, for allowing preventable medical errors to become the third leading cause of death in the United States. The great irony is that this monster killer is entirely man-made, and not a freak of nature.