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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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Med­ical care– fourth lead­ing cause of death in the US

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