Medicine kills more people than war?!

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The History of Thinking Medicine

So, is Medicine facing a crisis of mediocre thinking, as suggested in the previous segment of this series? Not sure you buy this idea?  It doesn’t fit with your own mental model of a profession of clever people in whom you can trust completely?  Only the best straight-A students go into Medicine right? so they can’t think that badly, right?

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published some rather disturbing data. They claimed that somewhere between 50 000 and 100 000 people are killed every year in the USA as a direct result of mistakes that doctors and other healthcare providers make.Think about it for a moment….

That means that more Americans are killed by doctors every single year than were killed in total by the five years of armed conflict in the Vietnam war.

These statistics mean that as a country, it is better to go to war than let doctors loose on your population! Put it another way – if pilots and the aviation industry had the same record that doctors and the medical industry do, we would be hearing reports of a Boeing 747 loaded full of passengers crashing every second day, year round. Would you fly? Would you be able to get life insurance if you did? 

Naturally, there was a pretty quick reaction to this information – something akin to a dismissive wave of the hand followed by an indignant look and expression of disgust and disbelief. But follow-up work proved that the data is correct – error really does occur to that extent and really does cause that degree of impact.

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