Health care is one of the nation’s leading killers

Preventable mistakes made by doctors and hospitals kill as many as 440,000 people each year in New Jersey and around the country, which makes health care the third most common cause of death in the United States. A recent report from the World Health Organization suggests that visiting a doctor or being admitted to a hospital is just as perilous in other countries. WHO researchers assessed the quality of the health care services available in 36 nations, and they concluded that about 40% of the patients treated in hospitals and as outpatients each year suffer harm at the hands of their doctors and nurses.

The WHO Patient Safety Fact File contains a worrying number of sobering statistics. The report suggests that about 50% of medical mistakes are preventable, and about one in three of them results in the patient’s death. These figures are backed up by autopsy findings in the United States revealing that about 10% of the patients who die each year were either misdiagnosed or received their diagnosis late.

The study also reveals that more than half of the patients killed in American hospitals by health care-related infections could be saved by simple interventions like hand washing. The WHO researchers found that surgery is especially hazardous. About one in four surgical patients suffers harm of some kind because of unsafe operating room conditions, and about 1 million patients die each year either on the operating table or immediately after surgery.

Patients who suffer injury, loss or damage after doctors or hospitals make mistakes can pursue civil remedies if they are able to show a direct link between the medical error and the harm they suffered. Experienced personal injury attorneys may seek to establish causation in medical malpractice cases by calling on expert witnesses. Medical experts might scrutinize health care records and explain to juries when mistakes were made and how the treatment provided failed to meet generally accepted standards.

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