Healthcare errors are said to be the third leading cause of death in the US at this point. Depending on who you talk to, between 250,000 and 440,000 deaths each year can be attributed to medical errors. Let us just assume that the lower number is accurate for a moment. I want to break this down for you. Data for number of counties and towns (incorporated places) provided by the US census bureau:
- A quarter of a million deaths each year attributed to medical errors.
- Five thousands deaths in each state.
- Eighty people per county.
- 13 people per town.
Imagine 13 people in your town dying from medical errors this year. Which 13 people will they be? Your kid’s little league coach? Your old piano teacher? The lady who has been giving you fresh tomatoes from her garden for the last decade? A person you have a nodding acquaintance with? A stranger?
The public is aware of deaths from breast cancer, accidents, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza, and suicide. There are huge campaigns for many of these diseases and disorders. Pink for the Cure, Strokes, and Suicide Prevention have billboards up in cities all over the nation. And medical errors are a silent, pervasive killer. We do not notify the public about it, we do not educate them about it, and blatant medical error deaths are very frequently attributed to other causes.
How do I personally know this? I am one nurse out of nearly five million and I can cite TWO deaths which were blamed on other things. One of the two was a nurse medication error, and she was insanely busy at the time. She gave short-acting insulin instead of long acting insulin. Nearly 100 units; and the patient died 45 minutes later with a blood sugar of 13. One was a failure-to-rescue death because the nurse was too new to be on her own and didn’t know what she was looking at. The charge nurse was busy, and she had no mentor. I personally watched these two patients die.
And what about the near misses? I have seen someone accidently bolus a patient with an insulin drip because she placed the tubing in the wrong IV pump channel when moving the patient from a chair to a bed. (that one lived) I have seen patients given medications they were allergic to. I have seen incidents of the the wrong ACLS protocol drugs being given (or given in the wrong dosage to a pediatric patient). I am ONE NURSE, and I graduated in 2007.
This cannot be.
As usual, we can attribute these incidents to staffing problems. No mentor, insanely busy and understaffed, no experienced nurse to back up a new nurse. How many bodies will we have to step over to get to a point where we are adequately staffed? Will it be the body of your kid? Your grandfather? Your UPS guy? Your neighbor?
Does it matter?
We educate the public. We are nurses. Start educating the public by walking for patient safety to #SavePat. Details available soon. Rally in DC on May 4, 2017 to convince your legislators that this is one leading cause of death we can actually do something about!
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