A story earlier this week on Oregon Public Broadcasting began with a stark statistic: “Oregon’s health care facilities reported more than 650 adverse events last year, 44 percent of which ended in serious harm or death, according to a new report by the Oregon Patient Safety Reporting Program.” Forty-four percent means that, as the article’s headline put it: “285 medical mistakes ended in serious injury or death in Oregon last year.”
For a state our size this is a shocking, and frankly unacceptable, number. “Adverse events include medication mix-ups, falls, infections, and erroneous surgeries being performed,” according to OPB. The number in the study is the largest reported in Oregon’s history, though the people who compiled the study say that can be attributed, in part, to a higher participation rate (the study was voluntary, since “the state doesn’t require health care facilities to report such mistakes,” OPB notes.)
The important thing to take away from the study, however, is how critical it is for doctors to take extra care when prescribing drugs and ordering treatment. Mistakes are simply less likely to happen when fewer and more carefully considered treatments are ordered, a fact that our current system, in which doctors get paid for each procedure they order, does not always encourage.
This simple fact even tipped over into our state’s politics recently. As OPB reported a few days earlier, Republican senate candidate Monica Wehby has been campaigning against Obamacare. The broadcaster reported that one of her criticisms of the program is a claim that defensive medicine – essentially doctors over-ordering care out of a fear of lawsuits – is a major driver of our country’s ever-rising medical costs. As OPB demonstrated, however, defensive medicine “only accounts for about 1-3 percent of health care costs,” according to figures provided to the broadcaster by the Chief Medical Officer at Oregon Health & Science University.
As a Portland personal injury attorney who has dealt with many cases involving medical mistakes and their consequences my own experience is that so-called defensive care is rarely the problem with our hospital system. The important thing is for hospitals and doctors to be more careful about what they do, and what they order, ensuring that Oregonians are always getting the treatment they need. Of course, the vast majority of our state’s doctors do this every day. Courts and lawyers are here to help Oregonians deal with the consequences when the system fails, but the far better outcome is for doctors – and, more importantly, the medical organizations that employ them – to focus on patients first, rather than fees.
Oregon Public Broadcasting: Report: 286 Medical Mistakes Ended in Serious Injury or Death in Oregon Last Year
Oregon Public Broadcasting: How Does Defensive Affect Health Care Costs