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Your Doctor May Be Killing You

by Chris Poindexter

I went to see a doctor on a referral about a persistent rash on my leg that I needed to have cleared up before surgery. The doctor I went to see didn’t speak English as a native language, interrupted me constantly when I was trying to give him medically relevant information and then proceeded to tell me he thought I had hepatitis, even though I had absolutely no risk factors for that disease. I decided to get another opinion.

In my case I was lucky. The condition wasn’t serious and turned out to be a benign skin condition that cleared up with simple treatment. But I could have been misdiagnosed into expensive and potentially harmful treatment or put off a life saving surgery if I hadn’t ignored that doctor. It turns out that hundreds of thousands of Americans are dying from medical mistakes every year and, according to scientists from Johns Hopkins recently published at BMJ.com (formerly the British Medical Journal), medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in America.

Comedy Of Errors

There’s certainly nothing funny about 250,000 Americans dying every year from botched surgeries, misdiagnosis and medication errors. In fact, more people die from treatment errors than die from every other medical condition except heart disease and cancer.

May Not Be The Whole Story

The number of deaths from improper diagnosis or care may actually be much higher as physicians and hospitals don’t have to report preventable deaths from errors. The scientists produced the current shocking statistics did so by analyzing billing codes and matching those up with death certificates. Doctors and hospitals also have powerful incentive not to admit errors which can result in lawsuits and medical malpractice claims. The medical community is, in very real and very literal terms, burying their mistakes.

It’s Not All Your Doctor’s Fault

Your doctor is not totally to blame. Like with any messed up system there are multiple points of failure. Doctors and hospitals are spending more time managing billing and frequently conflicting information and slow payments from health care insurance providers. In order to make ends meet, doctors have to jam more patients through the system and that leaves less time for each patient and a greater margin of error.

Our Experience Is Typical

Our own experiences with medical care in this country would better be classified as ongoing benign neglect. We get half the information we need to make an informed decisions about treatment options, the potential complications of procedures and the side effects and warnings associated with medications. Few providers can give us accurate up front cost estimates and we routinely deal with billing errors. The real tragedy is that we have it far better than most people.

A Perverse System

We have a system of medical care in this country where profit is being extracted at every step in the process. Every step in medical care is designed to extract the maximum profits and minimize the level of services provided. You know it’s a perverse system because free market forces are nearly completely absent in medical care. You can tell that’s true because people who can pay cash and don’t put the care provider through the insurance company headache actually end up paying more for the exact same services. Try calling around and get estimates on procedures sometime. It’s an exercise in futility.

People who say that the United States has the best medical care in the world are simply wrong and it’s more likely they’re being paid to make that statement. The facts are we pay more for medical care and drugs in the U.S. yet we don’t get better results. Now the situation has devolved to the point that our substandard medical care is killing us. Every industrialized country in the world does medical care better than the U.S. and for less money. Maybe it’s time we paid attention and tried something different.

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