Yesterday we discussed the World Health Organization’s announcement that going to your local Boston hospital is more dangerous than flying on a plane. One of the primary reasons why hospital deaths are at such a high level is because 1.7 million infections are acquired every year in U.S. hospitals. These infections kill about 100,000 patients, which is much higher than the 37,000 patients that die in Europe every year from 4.5 million infections.

“Health care is a high-risk business, inevitably, because people are sick and modern health care is delivered in a fast-moving, high-pressured environment involving a lot of complex technology and a lot of people,” the recently appointed WHO envoy for patient health said.

He noted that some operations can involve teams up to 60 people, which is enough to run a jumbo jet. The more people involved in a surgery the more likely it is that something will be left unsterilized or a breakdown in communication will cause the patient to have an allergic relation or even a medical practice incident such as wrong-site surgery.

WHO also notes that falls in hospitals injure and kill many people. Older hospital patients are more vulnerable to suffering fatal injuries or complications from falls.

There are several steps that hospitals can prevent surgical errors or infections, including using checklists. Checklists are a statistically proven way for ensuring that no part of a patient’s care becomes ignored.

“Frankly, if I was having an operation tomorrow I wouldn’t go into a hospital that wasn’t using the checklist because I wouldn’t regard it as safe,” the patient safety envoy said.

Source: Reuters, “Going into hospital far riskier than flying: WHO,” Stephanie Nebehay, 7/21/11