Medical errors: We can’t trust doctors to get it right | KevinMD.com | | Physician December 12, 2014
I spend a lot of time going around to different places warning professionals and the public that overdiagnosis, overtesting, and overtreatment are bad for our health.
Recently I have been witnessing these dangers firsthand. I have a friend who has lung cancer — the “good,” slow-growing kind. His doctors have been less kind than the cancer. They keep screwing up in ways that seem likely to kill my friend before his cancer does.
My friend has a small army of very highly specialized doctors all treating lab results in one tiny medical domain while ignoring all the aggressive stuff the other specialists are doing.
The result is dangerous medical chaos. Doctors love pictures and get paid a lot for ordering and reading them. Over the years my friend has been subjected to countless and mostly unnecessary imaging studies with contrast dyes that have compromised his kidneys.
There have also been several close calls because he was prescribed multiple medicines by multiple doctors without coordination and due consideration of the drugs’ interactions and synergistic harms.
The mistakes were all easily preventable if anyone were minding the store and paying attention to the patient, not the lab tests
Medical error is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.: Some 440,000 deaths a year are caused by hospital mistakes, and who knows how many more from outpatient mistakes.
But we can’t trust doctors and hospitals to get it right. I am getting in the habit of joining my friend at his visits to make sure the doctors and nurses don’t screw up. You shouldn’t need to bring along a doctor to protect you from your doctors.
The system is broken, and the incentives are all wrong. And it is not likely to be corrected soon.
Too much money is being made by powerful corporations and institutions that profit from the current lack of coordination and sensible regulation.
Free-market medicine that treats health care just like any other business commodity just doesn’t work — because it puts profits before patients.
For now, the only protection is a well-informed consumer.
Keep in mind that less is often more.
Allen Frances is a psychiatrist and professor emeritus, Duke University. He blogs at the Huffington Post.