Remember that statistic from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report that trial lawyers like to throw in everyone’s face about how “up to 98,000 people in the US die each year due to medical mistakes”? It’s like TWO 737 jetliners crashing every day … and we’re doing nothing about it.
So today a news story was sent to my inbox that included Saudi Arabian Ministry of Health statistics on medical malpractice. The report shows that there were 1,356 cases of malpractice in Saudi Arabia in 2009 and that “129 people died from medical mistakes in 2009.” Of course, the 129 number seemed quite low to me given the 98,000 number that is constantly cited in the press. Maybe Saudi Arabia’s population is just smaller than I thought.
Nope. Saudi Arabia has a population of roughly 26 million – about 1/12 of the 310 million people in the United States. Multiply those 129 Saudi Arabian deaths by 12 and the population adjusted death rate from medical mistakes in Saudi Arabia is 1,548 — versus 98,000 for the United States.
Look at it another way. Divide 98,000 deaths from medical mistakes in the United States by a population of 310 million and you get about 316 deaths per million population in the United States due to medical mistakes.
Divide 129 deaths from medical mistakes in Saudi Arabia by 26 million population and you get about 5 deaths per million population in Saudia Arabia from medical mistakes.
316 deaths per million in the US versus 5 deaths per million in Saudi Arabia.
Is medical care in the United States that much worse than in Saudi Arabia — even without the benefit of safety agencies such as the Joint Commission and HospitalCompare.gov?
Or do unrealistic requirements from “safety” organizations such as the Joint Commission and “quality measures” from our government actually cause more deaths from medical mistakes?
Or are the Institute of Medicine’s numbers so far off that they shouldn’t be believed?
I did a little more searching.
This parliamentary paper from the United Kingdom pegs deaths due to medical “incidents” at about 3,500 per year in England. In a country of 52 million people, that averages out to about 67 deaths per million population – still about one fifth of the alleged United States numbers.
Then I found a Canadian study showing that the range of deaths from “medical misadventures” in various industrialized countries ranges from 1 per million population to 10 per million population. The US is in the middle of the pack at about 6 deaths per million population per year – which equates to about 1,860 deaths per year from “medical misadventures” in the United States.
1,860 deaths versus 98,000 deaths
Why are the numbers in that IOM paper such outliers?
And why do the trial attorneys keep citing it as gospel?