Preventable medical errors hurt hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Preventable medical errors have more than doubled in the last decade, according to a Hearst investigation.

It estimates that some 200,000 Americans will die this year as a result of medical errors and hospital mistakes. These errors, which can be as simple as operating on the wrong body part or leaving surgery debris in the body, can lead to permanent injury, additional operations, and death. According to Phil Bronstein, who led the investigation, “The annual medical error death toll is higher than that for fatal car crashes.”

The precise number of these deaths is still unknown because many states lack a standard or mandatory reporting system for injuries due to medical mistakes.

The study is aptly titled “Death By Mistake” and reveals the failure of the medical community to meet the challenge put forth by the Federal Government a decade ago to cut the number of these errors in half. The goal was to do so within five years. An additional five years later and rather than reducing the incidents of medical malpractice, it appears that the situation has gotten worse.

A few of the more alarming findings of the Hearst investigation:

20 states have no medical error reporting at all, five states have voluntary reporting systems and five are developing reporting systems
Of the 20 states that require medical error reporting, hospitals report only a tiny percentage of their mistakes, standards vary wildly and enforcement is often nonexistent

In terms of public disclosure, 45 states currently do not release hospital-specific information
Only 17 states have systematic adverse-event reporting systems that are transparent enough to be useful to consumers
Despite the fact that malpractice litigation and payments are at historic lows, according to the federal government’s National Practitioner Data Bank, proponents of limiting patients’ rights continue to incorrectly blame ideas like “runaway jury awards” and “defensive medicine” for the nation’s escalating health care costs.

Bailing out negligent doctors does nothing to reduce the cost of healthcare and doesn’t protect patients from harm.

The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare Act of 2011 (H.R. 5) is a bill before Congress which would allow for sweeping immunity from accountability for the health industry – including doctors, nursing home operators, medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals.

The bill imposes an arbitrary and inhumane $250,000 cap on non-economic damages that compensate patients for the pain and suffering that accompany any loss of normal functions, such as blindness, paralysis, loss of sexual function, disfigurement and loss of fertility. H.R. 5’s one-size-fits-all cap is most harmful to the catastrophically injured as well as patients who aren’t high earners, such as children and seniors.

This bill has been considered in committee and referred to the House as a whole. Instead of debating proposals that inflict more pain on injured patients, we believe Congress should consider ways to reduce the astounding number of medical errors and ensure that the health industry provides quality care.

If a medical error has seriously injured you or someone in your family, we encourage you to contact an attorney at Meshbesher & Spence for a free consultation about your legal rights.