Marty Makary, Unaccountable
Medical Mistakes and Jumbo Jets
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Medical mistakes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. The number of patients killed by preventable medical errors every year is equivalent to four jumbo jets crashing every week, says Marty Makary in his fascinating new book, Unaccountable. (1)
He adds: In 2010 a Harvard study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine reported a finding well-known to medical professionals: As many as 25 percent of all patients are harmed by medical mistakes. What’s even less known to the public is that over the past ten years, error rates have not come down, despite numerous efforts to make medical care safer. (2)
No doubt it is a real grind to get through medical school, but what about a license to practice? Makary says that within a few months after graduating from medical school and filling out some simple paperwork, a new doctor receives a state medical license by mail. Here’s some revealing information about this license. It legally allows a doctor to do anything in medicine. But unlike with a driver’s license, a doctor can screw up royally yet never lose his or her license to practice medicine.
Even doctors in rehab who test positive for illegal drugs or are arrested can keep their licenses and continue to diagnose, prescribe, and operate as before. Unbeknown to the public, surgeons can be arrested for driving drunk or stoned and then go into surgery the next day. A doctor might not be able to legally drive his or her car to the hospital, but once they get there, they can open up your chest for surgery. (3)
Some other statistics:
- Up to 30 percent of health care is unnecessary, and 1 in 4 hospital patients are harmed by a mistake.
- US surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times a week.
- Roughly a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be harmed by a medical error of some kind.
- Some 20% to 30% of all medications, tests and procedures are unnecessary, according to research done by medical specialists, surveying their own field.
What other industry misses the mark this often?
Some other telling words from an article by Makary in the Wall Street Journal: “When there is a plane crash in the US, even a minor one, it makes headlines. There is a thorough federal investigation, and the tragedy often yields important lessons for the aviation industry. Pilots and airlines thus learn how to do their job more safely. The world of American medicine is far deadlier. Medical mistakes kill enough people each week to fill four jumbo jets. But these mistakes go largely unnoticed by the world at large, and the medical community rarely learns from them. The same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.” (4)
Makary says that in his book he tries to balance every shocking story with a positive new trend in health care or an exciting success story. “In medicine now we have some organizations that post complication rates online and discuss them. And younger doctors are changing the culture. The new generation comes from a different mindset. They have little tolerance for secrecy and demand transparency.”
What came across to me as a reader of Unaccountable is that the ‘shocking’ stories seemed to far out-distance and stick with me more than the new trends that supposedly will help.
- Marty Makary, Unaccountable, (New York, Bloomsbury Press, 2012)
- C. P. Landrigan, “Temporal trends in rates of patient harm resulting form medical care,” New England Journal of Medicine, 363, 2124, 2010
- Marty Markary, Unaccountable, Page 103
- Marty Makary, “How to stop hospitals from killing us,” The Wall Street Journal, September 22-23, 2012, Page C1