Archive for August, 2009

Patient safety lost in health care debate

Lots of noise going back and forth about health care reform, but one issue, which is the elephant in the room, is getting little coverage.

Back in 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued this report on the horrifying death toll caused by preventable medical errors. “Horrifying” isn’t over the top. We’re talking about 44,000-98,000 hospital deaths per year in U.S. hospitals caused by preventable medical errors. You would think those kinds of numbers would lead to instant action and a reduction, but the problem has gotten worse.

Kudos and appreciation to the Hearst news organization for an update. Unfortunately, it shows that 200,000 per year die from preventable medical errors. States, including Oregon,  have refused to pass mandatory hospital safety reporting laws.  Apparently, no one thinks that mandatory reporting of  preventable medical death information would change hospital practices.

The Oregonian ran with the story in its Saturday edition, but they somehow decided to leave it off of their website. That’s a shame, as they did a detailed local breakout.

So now we’re talking about health care reform. But for all the heat and light and jabber about government programs, single payers, “death panels,” and the like, no one is talking about reducing preventable medical harm.

So the better question is what about that elephant?

Why do we allow people seeking health care reform to demand limits on lawsuits when they refuse to talk about quality of care? With this level of deaths, why do we tolerate people complaining about “defensive medicine?”

If the medical and insurance industries want to hide errors, the one thing that must remain untouched is the right to trial by jury. Otherwise, we simply have an elephant in the room that will stomp another 200,000 people next year with no consequences. We need to be able to hold the medical and insurance industries accountable. And if the government will take no action, the jury is the next best thing.

Next time someone complains about malpractice cases, the practice of defensive medicine or frivolous lawsuits, ask them about the 200,000 deaths per year. If that number is too big, let’s break it down. It’s well over 500 people per day dead from preventable medical errors.  Wow.

The Hearst news system’s reporting at Dead By Mistake is timely, substantive and informative. In short, this is journalism at its best.

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Senate Democratic Policy Committee Hearings on Soldiers’ Exposures to Sodium Dichromate at Qarmat Ali

It was a chilling scene in Washington, D.C. earlier this week. The Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a two hour hearing on soldiers’ exposures to sodium dichromate at Qarmat Ali in 2003. Here is a link to the webcast of the hearing .

Oregon National Guard member Rocky Bixby represented the Oregon troops. I attended with Rocky.

Many people are owed thanks and recognition for their efforts., including all the senators who attended. Senator Dorgan, who chairs the committee, has been a force for change on this matter.  Senators Bayh, Rockefeller, Reid, Whitehouse, Udall, and Wyden also attended, each adding something important to the mix.

I wanted to particularly acknowledge Senator Wyden for taking time out of the pressing demands posed by health care reform. As well, Sen. Reid’s presence was particularly remarkable, as his leadership duties are demanding.

After the hearing, Senator Jeff Merkley made time to meet with Rocky Bixby. The meeting with Senator Merkley and his staff went well. It’s clear that they are concerned and motivated to help our injured soldiers. Rocky and I were so appreciative that Senator Merkley could make time to meet with Rocky and listen to his story.

Finally, I want to recognize the amazing staff of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee. They did great work pulling together comprehensive proof presented at the hearing.

To our Oregon troops and clients, I can only say that the Oregon Senate delegation has made it clear by their words and deeds that they are behind you. And of course, that’s in addition to the Oregon Legislature, and Rep. Schrader and other members of Congress working on federal legislation.

To our state legislators and the Oregon Congressional delegation, I can say that our troops appreciate your words of encouragement and your efforts and kindness. They have a long haul ahead. We appreciate your help to date and hope that you can continue to find time and resources to assist the troops as this thing unfolds.

Listen to the hearing. It’s very disturbing. The men and women who served need our help. That’s why we’re in this thing against KBR.

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