September 30, 2019
You probably didn’t realize it, but if you live in the U.S. odds are good you’ve already been to one of the deadliest places in the country… and probably more than once.
That’s why today we’re sharing an essay from our recent “What Wall Street Won’t Tell You” issue. In it, featured contributor Dr. David Eifrig explains the steps you can take to protect yourself when you inevitably return to one of America’s most dangerous places.
Beware of One of the Deadliest Places in the U.S.
By Dr. David Eifrig, featured contributor
Sometimes, doctors can be killers.
I’m not talking about homicide. I mean that the folks we trust with our lives make lethal mistakes… And it happens more often than you might expect.
British researchers recently released a report with a staggering finding: One in 20 patients are victims of preventable harm in medical care. And of those folks, about 12% suffer permanent disability or death.
The Brits aren’t the only ones with this problem, either. Here in the U.S., we face a similar issue.
In 2015, I wrote about a study that shocked my team and me. Published in the Journal of Patient Safety, the paper claimed that as many as 440,000 Americans die annually from hospital errors, injuries, accidents, and infections… That’s roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the U.S. each year.
But here’s the thing… That study took some liberties with how it got those numbers. It used insurance billing codes to calculate the number of patients with adverse events, which doesn’t account for whether the adverse event directly caused the patient’s death.
Earlier this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association released a study spanning over two decades – it showed that about 2.8% of all U.S. deaths were due to adverse effects of medical treatment. That’s about 78,000 folks each year, not 440,000. That’s not as scary, but it’s still too high.
To help put that in perspective… In 2018, about 36,750 Americans died in motor vehicle accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
So even with the lower estimate from JAMA, you’re still more than twice as likely to die from a medical error than from a car accident.
And we’re just wrapping up the worst time of year for medical mistakes. That’s why I wanted to review three of my top ways to stay safe from medical errors…
1. Avoid the Hospital During the Summer
Going to a “teaching hospital” in the months of June, July, and August is even more dangerous than usual…
If you or a loved one is considering any sort of hospital visit for an elective or nonemergency procedure, you should absolutely stay clear of any medical facility that is considered a “teaching hospital” during the summer.
Doctors in training, or so-called “residents,” start training every year on July 1.
So in June, the senior residents leaving for the real world are unconcerned about taking care of you… They are thinking about getting out of there and finding a real job to pay down their six-figure debt.
The new doctors coming in on July 1 just graduated from medical school. Most can’t yet find their way out of a paper bag.
But worse… the senior hospital staff doctors, called “attendings,” who are supposed to supervise the new kids, are taking summer vacations. Most let the senior residents run the show.
The good news is that the problem is temporary.
Once September hits, the new docs have a few months of experience under their belts. And the attendings are back at work and supervising again… And the hospital is as safe as it gets.
2. Choose the Right Hospital
Aside from avoiding a teaching hospital, you should take the time to find the best hospital for your upcoming procedure or surgery.
Now, this isn’t always an option if it’s an emergency, but for most situations, you should do your research.
Look for clinics and hospitals that are in-network, or covered by your insurance policy, to avoid ludicrous bills. For example, the news reported last month on a Montana couple that landed themselves with a half-million-dollar medical bill for dialysis… just because they went to an out-of-network center.
Similarly, if you unexpectedly wind up going to the hospital and doctors keep you overnight, insist they list you as “inpatient.” If you’re outpatient, insurance won’t cover as much.
Choose the best hospital for your specialty. I’ve written many times about going to the best cancer care center for the type of cancer you have. You can find my original article on this right here.
For other problems, I recommend following the rankings from U.S. News & World Report. It has an annual ranking of the best hospitals nationwide as well as by region. It looks at data such as survival rates for procedures, number of beds, staffing, and medical errors and oversights. You can find its ratings based on area here.
Medicare.gov also offers a hospital comparison tool. The breadth of data is larger and includes payments and value of care. Take a look at the closest hospitals to you, right here. I recommend combining both this tool along with the specialties through U.S. News & World Report. Some hospitals for Medicare may rank lower overall but have the best in a specialty, like cardiology. Making an informed decision is the best course for any pre-planned medical visit.
3. Research Your Doctor
The right doctor can mean the difference between life and death. Surgical complications affect about 2% to 4% of most common surgeries.
But according to Stanford University, the worst 1% of surgeons are responsible for nearly a third of all malpractice claims.
As I’ve advised before, ask your surgeon for a printout of his statistics. He should keep them on a computer. If not, run out of the office. In addition, check his status with the American Board of Medical Specialties. He should be up to date on his exams and certified in surgery. You can find that right here.
You can also search by state for criminal convictions and malpractice claims against your surgeon. Go here to get started
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
After years of lying unperturbed, the most hidden corners of our bodies are exposed and manipulated by surgeons, then put back together again, all in the course of a morning or afternoon.
Science is lagging behind public interest and consumption. Now, the National Institutes of Health is putting $3 million into figuring out what Cannabidol (“CBD”) can do for pain. Don’t expect that to change much in the expansive CBD market.
“I opened a Pandora’s box and released a Frankenstein’s monster.” Bred and purchased for their non-allergenic fur coats, labradoodles are increasingly popular… Yet unethical breeders now make hybrids with serious health problems.
And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Assistant Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
September 30, 2019