Hospitals Benefit From High Rate of Surgery Mistakes

It’s a tragedy that the current medical system has strayed so far from its basic mission of protecting people’s health.  Financial incentives have become so skewed that they actually encourage sub-standard care.

Two recent articles offer powerful evidence.

In the first one, Johns Hopkins medical safety experts reported that, in their best estimate, American doctors are responsible for 80 inexcusable surgical disasters per week.  That means one of three things happened:

  • Leaving a sponge , towel, or foreign object in the patient’s body
  • Performing the wrong procedure, or
  • Performing surgery on the wrong side of the body.

That sounds bad enough.  But what prompted me to write was the second article, which to a degree explains the persistent high rate of surgical complications.

It turns out that hospitals actually fare better financially when surgical complications arise.  Researchers from the Massachusetts Eye & Ear Infirmary (part of the Harvard Medical School system) determined that hospitals turn an additional net profit of about $8,000 each time surgical complications occur.  And that this added profit is one reason that hospitals have been slow to implement safer practices.


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