Dangers of Modern Medicine
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In March of 2012, 17-year old high school student Mariah Edwards entered a local surgical center for a tonsillectomy, a procedure performed by physicians for decades. Philadelphia’s WPVI reports that what should have been an uneventful stay turned into an unimaginable nightmare for the family when the young girl died. With the ever increasing advancements in knowledge and technology occurring in the medical field, many procedures now occur on an outpatient basis. However, while modernization increases, statistics indicate that the quality of care patients receive remains on a steady decline.
A surgeon performed Edward’s tonsillectomy in under an hour without encountering complications. Medical staff informed the relieved family. Medical staff transferred the girl to the facility recovery room. Attached to an array of monitors designed to continually assess a patient’s status and alarm staff when that status changes, the girl lay unconscious from the effects of anesthesia and a powerful narcotic pain medication. At some point during her expected recovery, Edward’s respiratory rate and vital signs began declining. Personnel staffing the recovery area did not respond to the emergency situation because sometime after Edward’s admittance, a nurse pulled the curtain around the girl’s bed and muted the alarms on the monitors. Staff admitted not checking the status of the patient for a period of 25 minutes.
Hospital Errors Cause Alarmingly High Number of Fatalities
In the aftermath of this tragedy, the medical facility implemented a policy ensuring a higher degree of patient care that included prohibiting staff from silencing monitors. A negligence lawsuit remains pending. According to a report published by the Institute of Medicine , between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die annually in America’s hospitals because of human error. These numbers do not take into account the number of fatalities occurring in outpatient clinics, outpatient surgery centers, dental offices, nursing homes or other patient care facilities. The report goes on to declare that medical error related fatalities outnumber deaths incurred secondary to motor vehicle accidents and terminal disease conditions.
Equally alarming is the fact that when evaluating individual states, the Institute of Medicine claims that medical errors contributed to more than 50 percent of fatalities occurring in hospitals in some regions. The organization notes a number of factors contributing to these statistics including communication errors, diagnostic errors, human errors and manufacturing errors. The medical community prefers not taking punitive measures against employees responsible for committing errors for fear of creating an environment void of transparency or a willingness to openly confess mistakes.
Considerations for Improvement
The Institute of Medicine and the Quality Interagency Coordination Task Force propose that standardizing medical equipment and incorporating safeguards decreases the risk of error. Other recommendations include improving work environments for medical personnel by limiting shift hours or preventing understaffing. Facilities must also implement methods and technologies that reduce errors concerning medications or documentation. The organizations also hope to develop a national error reporting database that increases the quality of care by performing routine analysis of situations. From studying individual or multiple scenarios, new methods of prevention may develop. The IOM and the QuIC task force also suggest that patients take a more active approach in their health care.