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Monday, October 10, 2011

Hospital stays are the 6th leading cause of death in the US

Hospital Stays are the Sixth Leading cause of Death

in the US

            The following is a quote used with permission by Healthgrades: "The United States loses more American lives to patient safety incidents every six months than it did in the entire Vietnam War. This also equates to three fully loaded jumbo jets crashing every other day for the last five years. Although they are not recognized as a cause of death by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in its annual National Vital Statistics Report, medical errors would be ranked as the sixth leading cause of death in the United States and outrank deaths due to diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, Alzheimer’s disease, and renal disease." Mr. Zhan and Mr. Miller are the ones who put that study together. So as you can see hospital stays can be dangerous to your health.  I have worked in different health care settings for the last ten years, including different nursing homes and even in an ICU.  Aside from my personal experiences with hospitals, I have also done continuing education in the medical field as well as the research that I had to do for this speech.  Hospital acquired infections and preventable medical errors accounted for $8.1 billion in medical costs in 2006 alone according to an article published in the archives of internal Medicine by Doctors Murphy and Pronovost in 2010.  The question is what can we do to save ourselves from becoming a statistic?

            First lets' take a look at Hospital acquired infections; what are they and what causes them?  Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, as it is commonly called, and sepsis are the heavy hitters according to a study published by the Center for Disease Control in 1999.  MRSA is actually caused by our over use of hand sanitizers and antibiotics.  "Normal" germs have become resistant to traditional treatments and therefore we must use stronger and increasingly stronger medicines to get rid of them.  MRSA can be spread just like the common cold by coughs, sneezes, and unwashed hands.  Sepsis occurs when an infection such as MRSA spreads throughout the whole body and causes system failure.

            A second cause of death in hospital stays is medical errors.  Medical errors as I have learned in my studies can be attributed to medical personnel not double checking what we like to call the five "rights" of medication administration.  These include: the right medicine given in the right does at the right time by the right route to the right patient. For example did the Doctor order 50 milligrams or 5 point 0 milligrams of a pain medication.  If you give too little the patient won't feel the effects of the medicine and will continue to be in pain.  If you give too much you could damage the liver and the patient could OD and die. An email I received recently perfectly describes this problem.  A woman came to see a doctor complaining that her asthma medications weren't helping her asthma at all.  The doctor. asked her questions about her inhaler and then asked her to show him how she used it.  She took out the container from her purse and then proceeded to squirt her inhaler as if it were a perfume bottle on either side of her neck.  The doctor. immediately recognized that she was not getting the right dosage by the right route.  Medical errors can also be attributed to allergic reactions.  My husband is highly allergic to soy and in a recent hospital stay where he acquired MRSA they gave him a soy based antibiotic.  Not only did he nearly die because of the infection he also nearly died from the treatment of that infection.  These medical errors, while not causing his death, did keep him from going back to work for two months and could have rendered us homeless, not to mention the enormous cost of the multiple surgeries and the length of time he had to spend in the hospital

            So what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic?  First make sure that people treating you have washed their hands.  Be vocal about your treatments.  Ask questions about any medicines that you are being handed.  Remember to find out how and when you are supposed to be taking your medications.  Make sure that if you have had an allergic reaction or a bad experience with medications that you report it to anyone treating you.  Remember that medications can counteract each other.  Know why you are taking whatever it is that you are taking and what side effects to watch out for.

            In summery Hospital acquired infections and medical errors don't have to cause you more pain.  To avoid unnecessary hospital stays, costs and even death ABC News suggests that people remember to be proactive in their healthcare "Obviously, patients who die one by one don't attract attention the way a fiery air crash does, says a USA Today report. And a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 people a year died in hospitals from medical errors. Now, 11 years later, a new survey from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services finds that about 1 in every 7 Medicare patients in hospitals suffers a serious medical mishap." The report goes on to say that "adverse events in hospitals contribute to the deaths of an estimated 180,000 patients a year."  Clearly this rate of death would cause an outcry if they died in a war or an airplane crash so why aren't we more worried about it?

Works Cited

1.  Zhan C. and Miller MR. Excess Length of Stay, Charges, and Mortality Attributable to Medical Injuries During Hospitalization. JAMA 2003;290(14): 1868-74. Zahn and Miller's data source was the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) Nationwide Inpatient Sample (NIS) hospital discharge

2.  HealthGrades' data source was MedPAR hospital discharge data from 2000 to 2002 (approximately 40 million Medicare hospital discharge claims from every nonfederal short-term hospital in every state)

3.  David J. Murphy, MD; Peter J. Pronovost, MD, PhD  2010 Arch Intern Med.;170(4):353-355. retrieved 2-13-2011 from

4.  Kohn L, Corrigan J, Donaldson M. 1999 "To err is human: building a safer health system." Washington D.C.: Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press (via MMWR weekly March 03, 2000 / 49(08);149-153 published by the Center for Disease Control)

5.  ABC News April 4, 2007 "Hospital Errors Put More Patients at Risk"

6.  USA Today 11-18-2010 "Our view on your health: Preventable medical mistakes take an intolerable toll."

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