A new study of patients at risk for heart attacks shows that the so-called "July effect," once thought to be nothing more than urban legend, may actually exist in hospitals in South Carolina and nationwide. The phenomenon dictates that the month of July, typically the month when new medical school graduates take positions on teaching-hospital floors, can be deadlier than any other month of the year.
It is estimated that more than 440,000 people die each year in hospitals as a result of preventable errors on the part of doctors and hospital staff. Whether this is due to medical malpractice or negligence, avoidable mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the Untied States, only surpassed by cancer and heart disease. Part of the reason for the frequency of mistakes is likely due to the fact that doctors are sometimes more likely to hide an error that they see than report it, even if they were not the one who erred.
South Carolina residents may be concerned to hear that in one out of every 5,500 surgeries, patients leave the operating room with a "foreign object" still inside of them, according to widely cited figures from a multi-institutional study. The Joint Commission, which qualifies a large number of hospitals nationwide for Medicare, recently issued an alert for this widespread issue, termed the "unintended retention of foreign objects."
Readers in South Carolina may be interested in some research that shows substance abuse among doctors is 18 percent higher than it is in the general population. Yet, unlike other professions, such as teachers, athletes and even bus drivers, doctors aren't required to take urine tests that look for the presence of illegal drugs. Another statistic indicates that almost two out of every 10 doctors abuse alcohol and drugs. It is an issue that may impact a patient's standard of care.
A South Carolina orthopedic surgeon, whose whistle-blowing led to a federal lawsuit against a healthcare provider, was himself censured by a jury recently. The doctor was found liable in a medical malpractice case arising from a 2010 operation he performed on a patient's knee.
South Carolina residents may be alarmed to learn that the number of deaths caused by hospital mistakes has been greatly underestimated. While not all mistakes made in hospitals lead to harm to patients or are considered medical malpractice, the fact is that even low estimates state that nearly 100,000 people die annually as a result of errors made by hospital workers. This number comes from the Institute of Medicine's 1999 "To Err is Human" report. According to newer studies, however, that number sorely understates the number of avoidable deaths.
South Carolina readers might be surprised to learn that hospital acquired infections cost the health care system in the U.S. $10 billion annually. Approximately one in every 20 patients who have been hospitalized contracts an infection, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since these types of infections are largely preventable through the use of best practices checklists, high rates of infections might be considered medical malpractice.
South Carolina residents may be happy to hear that preventable deaths due to cardiovascular disease are declining, but the CDC still believes that there is a lot of room for improvement. Not every one of these deaths was related to medical malpractice, but there is still a lot that the medical community can do to reduce their number. While there was a 29 percent decline in the number of avoidable deaths due to heart and hypertensive diseases and stroke before the age of 75 between 2001 and 2010, more than 50 percent of these deaths occurred in people under the age of 65.
In a study with implications for doctors and patients in South Carolina, data collected on nearly 2 million hospital admissions conducted by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg found that those who left a medical facility too soon more than doubled the risk of complications or death. Just over one percent of patients left before they were given permission to do so by their doctors; those patients were 2.5 times more likely to die within 90 days and were also readmitted at three times the standard rate in the 30 days after they left.
South Carolina medical patients should know that doctors who act unprofessionally may not be penalized. Between 2001 and 2011, almost 6,000 physicians were placed on restriction at medical facilities for incidents related to patient well-being. However, more than 3,000 of those individuals received no sanctions against their license and were not even fined, despite having their clinical privileges revoked. Of these individuals, 234 of them were deemed to be an immediate threat to patients.