One-in-four people in Massachusetts affected by medical mistakes

On behalf of Zachary B. Lang at Barry D. Lang, M.D., & Associates

Experts say more needs to be done to bring down high error rate

About a quarter of all adults in Massachusetts say they have either been affected by a medical mistake or know someone who has, according to the Boston Globe. The high error rate, which is primarily due to misdiagnoses, highlights the continuing problem of patient safety in the Commonwealth. Despite high-profile cases that have brought much needed attention to the problem, experts say that medical errors remain a huge problem and many of them may even go unreported.

600,000 harmed by errors

The study, conducted by Harvard researchers, found that 23 percent of people in Massachusetts have suffered from a medical error in the past five years or know someone who has. The 23 percent is equivalent to about 1.2 million people. Given that half of those errors were described as leading to "serious health consequences," researchers extrapolated that about 600,000 adults in the Commonwealth have been harmed by medical mistakes within the past five years, according to WBUR News.

The problem is hardly unique to Massachusetts. Other studies have found that medical mistakes lead to up to 440,000 preventable deaths each year in the United States. The U.S. Senate noted last year that that rate is the equivalent to three jumbo jets crashing every day. The issue grew to greater prominence in part because of the death of Boston Globe reporter Betsy Lehman 20 years ago. She passed away after being given a massive overdose of a chemotherapy drug during her breast cancer treatment.

Unreported incidences a challenge

Advocates for improved patient safety note that hospitals have made improvements in recent years, with about 50,000 patients' lives being saved due to fewer hospital errors. However, half of all medical errors occur at non-hospital facilities, such as nursing homes, pharmacies, dialysis centers, and ambulatory surgical centers. Experts note that these places have seen little improvement in patient safety standards in recent years.

One of the biggest challenges to combating medical errors is the fact that many errors never get reported. In the survey carried out by Harvard researchers, 40 percent of respondents say they never reported the medical error to authorities, usually because they didn't think it would lead to changes. The lack of reliable data on medical errors makes it both difficult to assess the true scope of the problem and to come up with viable solutions to improve patient safety standards.

Medical malpractice

Medical malpractice is a serious issue that harms millions of patients through Massachusetts and the U.S. every year. People who have been the victims of such malpractice should contact a medical malpractice attorney right away. An experienced attorney can discuss what options may be available to victims of alleged medical malpractice and what steps to take when moving forward with a potential malpractice case.

Please call Barry D. Lang, MD & Associates if you feel you are the victim of medical malpractice.