The Dirty Little Health Care Secret

In reading the book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, I learned about a field of study called, iatrogenesis.

Iatrogenesis is the degree of harm committed on patients by doctors and the health  care systems. In other words, iatrogenesis is all about how many people die because of errors by physicians and hospitals. The numbers are staggering.

According to one source, the number of deaths in the United States due to medical error is approximately 98,000! Remember, this number is from reported deaths, and may or may not be correct depending on how or whether errors are reported within a given hospital system.

The 98,000 to 100,000 number is supported by the references in this Newsweek article.

Other sources credit the number of deaths as over 225,000 patients. This is the number that brings iatrogenesis deaths up to the third largest killer in the nation. Even if this number is not correct, the 98,000 to 100,000 number is roughly equivalent to the deaths that would have been caused by a jumbo jet crashing, everyday.

One thing we do know is that the 100,000 level of iatrogenic deaths is conservative. Some say it is very conservative.

So, how does this affect us today? How does this affect Obama care? Here is my reasoning.

1. The mortality numbers published for the United States show our health system to be more deadly that many other countries. This difference is in large part attributable to our much larger number of doctors, hospitals, MRI and CT Scan machines per capita than any other country in the world.

2. It is obvious that the more health care you get, the greater you are at risk for being killed by the system.

3. According to Nicholas Taleb, the life expectancy of Americans will get longer as our medical care becomes rationed more and more like European health care.

You will notice that I have found one of the only positive things about Obama care. Even though everybody will pay more for healthcare, and everybody will get less healthcare, more people will live through the experience.

We will get the shaft from Obama in our healthcare system. Simply by the principles revealed in iatrogenesis, we should benefit.

How do you like them apples?

6 thoughts on “The Dirty Little Health Care Secret”

  1. I was stunned by the numbers, but like you, have personal knowledge of people at risk from the hospital systems. When we lived in Houston many years ago, a patient in a brand-new hospital was killed because the in-the-wall gas supplies had been crossed, and a patient was put on nitrous oxide instead of oxygen. As you know, if you are going to a hospital for any reason, take along somebody that can manage your situation while you are in the hospital.

    My wife was hospitalized for a hernia that was caused by a previous gall bladder surgery. During her stay, a nurse entered her room with hypodermic needle at the ready. When the nurse was questioned, my wife learned that the shot was insulin. There was no mention of insulin treatment in the charts.

    My wife was smart enough to REFUSE ANY MORE MEDICATION AT THAT HOSPITAL, and kept me on the cell phone until I could get there and stand guard. Over-reaction? Maybe, but my wife is still alive and we celebrated another wedding anniversary last week.

    You cannot trust those professionals in whose hands you place your very life. It always pays to ask questions.

  2. For many years, I lived in the Rio Grand Valley of Texas. Located nearby is the University of Texas, (Pan American) which proudly boasts of a school of nursing. The school has a very poor reputation, decertified on a number of occasions. Some people suggest decertification had to do with low admission standards, while others say that it had the worst teachers on the face of the planet. I know it catered to students from Mexico.

    No matter … a fellow teacher needed open heart surgery. Her doctor refused to admit her into any hospital in the entire RGV due to the likely possibility that the nursing staff would kill her. Overall, this doctor was not a very politically correct fellow, which means that he may find it difficult to enter Heaven when he dies. On the other hand, he was a quality doctor.

  3. Yes. I remember Pan American University, although I knew nothing about the institution. I lived in Houston for about 8 years during the 1970’s, and those were interesting times in South Texas. In the Houston area a brand new hospital had been built, and shortly after it opened, an accidental death was reported. It seems that the hoses to the oxygen and nitrous oxide valves had been reversed during construction, and inspections had failed to reveal the problem.

    The stories can go on and on.

    Thanks for your comment.

  4. The problem with the ACA is that if it is going to extend the average lifespan by curtailing the affects of iatrogenesis, couldn’t that be done a lot more cheaply by just not subsidizing the health care industry at all?

    bob: That’s not a bad scenario. Thanks for the comment.

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