The Harm in Medical Error Memes

By Dr. Nick van Terheyden aka Dr. Nick
Twitter: @drnic1
Host of Dr. Nick: The Incrementalist – #TheIncrementalist

On this episode, I am talking to Chadi Nabhan, MD, MBA, FACP, (@chadinabhan) The Chief Medical Officer of Aptitude. Together with his co-author Benjamin Mazer, MD, MBA (@BenMazer) they penned an article: Strengthening the Medical Error “Meme Pool” that took on the persistent data circulating that puts medical error as the 3rd leading cause of death in the US responsible for as many as 400,000 deaths annually.

We dig into the origins of these statistics and their viral transmission that creates its own problems of anchoring that make it even harder to combat.

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The origin dates back to the 1999 Institute of Medicine report “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System” report with additional reports in 2013: A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care that increased the number to 440,000 deaths annually and the BMJ Paper: Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US which places the rate at 251,454 per year. Both these papers combined have been cited over 800 times in other articles but the detailed contemporaneous critique of those two estimates: Estimating deaths due to medical error: the ongoing controversy and why it matters [this is the link Chadi references in our discussion](which unlike the other two is freely available not sitting behind any paywall) has only been cited 16 times.

As Chadi points out the numbers used would equate, based on current metrics to ~60% of all deaths in hospital attributable to medical errors and in their review and that of others do not stand up to analysis yet they persist in the media and beyond.

Listen in to hear our discussion on the background to how we arrived here, some of the vignettes that help explain the challenge with coming up with accurate numbers and what we should be doing to contribute to a better more informed discussion.

About the Show
For years Dr. Nick van Terheyden aka Dr. Nick, has served as a voice on the impact of new technologies on healthcare, earning a reputation as a leading authority on where the future of medicine is going. Combining powers of observation and real world experience, Dr. Nick has seen many predictions come true and makes the case that innovations in healthcare can be accomplished incrementally, not just by moonshot events. Tune in to hear Dr. Nick: The Incrementalist and his guests discuss what the future of healthcare looks like, how we will get there, and what it will take to improve healthcare for all.

This article was originally published on the Dr. Nick – The Incrementalist blog and is republished here with permission.