The Fear Factors of Health Care

Posted on October 29, 2013 by Kathy Hoekstra

Forbes: "Six Frightening Facts You Need To Know About Healthcare"

Halloween is the one time in the year that people willingly embrace fear – we watch horror movies, don scary costumes and play spooky pranks on one another, all in the name of good, ghostly fun.

Health care should not be scary, yet despite the good people who work in the industry, hosts of problems haunt our healthcare system that lead to “preventable harm and excessive waste,” as described in this Forbes piece, “Six Frightening Facts You Need to Know about Healthcare”.

Read the summary below, if you dare: 

1.  Up to 400,000 people are killed each year due to preventable medical errors.  A new study indicates between 210,000 and 400,000 hospital patients each year suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death, making preventable medical errors  the third leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease (1st) and cancer (2nd).

2.  $765,000,000,000, or 30% of all U.S. healthcare costs, each year is wasted.  A 2011 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study found that of the $2.5 trillion spent on domestic healthcare costs in 2009, $765 billion (or 30%) was attributable to preventable costs such as  fraud, unnecessary services, inefficiently delivered services, and excessive administration costs.  At this rate, healthcare costs will skyrocket to an unsustainable $4.5 trillion in 2019.

3.  33% of hospital patients suffer some form of preventable harm during their hospital stay.  A 2012 IOM study found that  one-third of hospital patients experienced some form of Hospital Acquired Conditions (HACs), ranging from minor injuries to death.  Put it this way: If your iPhone gave you a harmful shock one out of every three times that you checked your e-mail, would Apple stay in business?

4.  58% of clinicians felt unsafe about speaking up about a problem they observed or were unable to get others to listen.  This statistic first appeared in a 2005 report called “Silence Kills.”  the report also found that “84 percent of doctors observed colleagues who took dangerous shortcuts when caring for patients and 88 percent worked with people who showed poor clinical judgment.” And “less than 10 percent of physicians, nurses, and other clinical staff directly confronted their colleagues about their concerns.”

5.  Critical care patients each experience nearly 2 medical errors per day.  According to a 1995 article, intensive care unit (ICU) patients experienced an average of 1.7 medical errors per day. The study concluded that the main reason for the errors was significant communication failure between clinicians.

6.  92% of U.S. physicians admitted to making some medical decisions based on avoiding lawsuits, as opposed to the best interest of their patients.  This startling statistic came from a 2010 Jackson Healthcare study. on defensive medicine. The study also found that clinicians from other countries, including New Zealand, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Sweden did not report any ordering of unnecessary tests, treatments, or consultations to avoid lawsuits.

The demons of preventable harm to patients and the out of control healthcare costs need to be exorcised. As the article concludes, “The only thing more frightening than the list above is imagining what the numbers will be like ten years from now if we don’t fundamentally change the system.”

(See also our Kitchen Table Economics entitled, “Paying for Bad Medicine” which further explains the mechanisms in place that allow for some of these problems to exist.)