Landrigan article shows alarming trend, or lack thereof

Landrigan published this article a couple years ago in the New England Journal of Medicine. It is a very interesting read.

Basically, in the early 2000s, it came to the attention of the medical community that many hospitals were causing harm to patients while providing treatment. The number was somewhere around 25% of all hospital patients were actually hurt in some way by being treated for whatever ailment brought them to the hospital in the first place (1 in 4). Landrigan’s study set out to analyze a random set of hospitals in North Carolina, which was a state that had committed some of the most funds toward decreasing the number of harms caused by medical personnel. The results of this study show that even after a focused attempt to decrease the number from 25%, the number in fact remainded the same, or merely decreased in a way that was statistically insignificant.

This is alarming. First, not only are the attempts to decrease these harms seemingly ineffective, but the number is too high to begin with. Unfortunately, individuals have very little power to affect change in this realm, because hospitals are mostly regulated by the government, and they are less responsive to consumer demands than other business models.  So, maybe one of the best things people can do to protect themselves is to simply realize that medical personnel make mistakes too, and to not be blindly trusting of doctors. Such an approach cannot hurt, because when a doctor’s diagnosis or treatment is appropriate and correct, the result will not change if a patient inquires further from other channels, including other doctors. By contrast, when a doctor does make a mistake in diagnosis or treatment, further research and inquiry may be very helpful and prevent a future harm.

In other words, if Landrigan’s study is correct, it seems that the profession has not yet devised a system-wide solution to this problem, and so until that day comes, it is a prudent approach for each person to try to correct the problem for himself or herself, so he or she stays out of the dreaded 25%.

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