“It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient’s death, the numbers come out worse”

–Marshall Allen, Propublica, an independent non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest and winner of dozens of awards including The Peabody Award in journalism and the Pulitzer for national reporting.

Sal Petralia is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™Given, that I believe financial planning in a holistic approach should also include jobs, education, and health, I decided to do some research on accidental hospital deaths. Obviously death triggers a wide array of financial effects, not the least of which are probate and estate issues. After I heard, what I considered to be an astounding statistic that accidental hospital deaths were the equivalent of losing two jumbo jets full of people every week, I thought it would be worth a look. After all, being aware of it might provide some benefit.

Mr. Allen of Propublica reported in a September, 2013 NPR column that “in 1999 the Institute of Medicine published a report which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals.” He also stated that the number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials.

Mr. Allen then reported that in 2010 the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year. I thought this was breath-taking enough, but it gets worse. The NPR article quotes a new study in the current issue of Journal of Patient Safety that says the number may be much higher—“between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.”

Nobody can say for sure what the most accurate number is because of confidentiality and deficient medical records, but let’s take a look at the low end of the most recent estimate by HHS–210,000. Dividing that figure by 52 weeks, it comes to roughly 4,000 per week, or the equivalent of 10 jumbo jets per week–a staggering number This puts the casualty figures of the 9/11 attacks into a new perspective.

I guess it’s safe to assume that this problem is being worked on by hospital and government officials. It’s been going on for a long time. We can only pray that progress is being made, but strained hospital budgets have to be a major hurdle to ant substantive improvement.

In the meantime, take the time to try to protect yourself by visiting either of these two websites: First is medicare.gov and type in the search block ‘Hospital Compare.’ You will be able to search hospitals by zip code or hospital name. Besides general information on the hospitals, you can get ratings on; surveys on patients’ experiences, timely and effective care, re-admissions complications and deaths, use of medical imaging, and Medicare payment.

Another is consumerreports.com. This is a reasonably priced subscription, and I get it on-line. Once you log in, go to health and then hospital ratings. You’ll find hospitals by state here. Here the categories are; safety score, blood stream infections, avoiding re-admissions, drug information, and surgery—adverse events. “À votre santé.”

Sal Petralia is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and a Registered Principal with LPL Financial, 5621 Strand Blvd. Unit 102, Naples, Fla, 34110; Tel 239-596-7822; Email: sal.petralia@lpl.com

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