How many patients will die from medical mistakes and preventable hospital infections in 2009? According to a recent Hearst Corporation study, “Dead By Mistake,” it is estimated at 200,000.

Hearst Newspapers editor-at-large, Phil Bronstein, who headed the investigative study stated, “More people die each month of preventable medical injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The annual medical error death toll is higher than that for fatal car crashes. He also added, “To the families, each case is a unique and compelling argument as to why a system that allows such preventable mistakes is intolerable.”

The study also revealed some discouraging news. It discovered that despite an earlier federal report, “To Err is Human,” which had uncovered the tragic numbers of deaths caused by hospital errors, there has not been significant progress with hospital accountability methods to lower the risk to patients.

For example, one recommendation of implementing a requirement by hospitals to report to a national reporting system never was enforced. According to the Hearst study, special interests worked against implementing the program.

Information for the study was collected from millions of anonymous patient discharge records from Texas, California, New York and Washington hospitals. According to a July 30, 2009 Houston Chronicle news story by Terri Langford, Texas is one of the states that has not implemented an efficient and comprehensive reporting system to track information about hospital medical errors.

The story stated that information collected between 2003 and 2007 as to the names of the hospitals participating in the submitting reports of errors was never made available to consumers. Only error totals were made public.

Langford interviewed Dr. Josie R. Williams, a gastroenterologist and former president of the Texas Medical Association. She was quoted as saying, “We need error reporting, but we need it in a way where we can do something about it, not just where we report it,” She stated that hospitals are working hard to eradicate mistakes.

According to Hearst’s Web site, www.deadlymistake.com, the following are some of the key findings of their investigation:

Twenty states have no medical error reporting at all, five states have voluntary reporting systems and five are developing reporting systems;

Of the 20 states that require medical error reporting, hospitals report only a tiny percentage of their mistakes, standards vary wildly and enforcement is often nonexistent;

In terms of public disclosure, 45 states currently do not release hospital-specific information;

Only 17 states have systematic adverse-event reporting systems that are transparent enough to be useful to consumers;

The national patient-safety center is underfunded and has fallen far short of expectations;

Voluntary systems are in place for hospitals to report and learn from errors, but the new organizations are devoid of meaningful oversight and further exclude the public;

Hearst journalists interviewed 20 of the 21 living authors of “To Err is Human” — 16 believe that the U.S. hasn’t come close to reducing medical errors by half, the primary stated goal of the report;

New York’s reporting system has run out of money and staff — its last public report is four years old.

The law mandating reporting in Texas expired in 2007, and funding ran out — a new reporting law has been passed, but no funds have been allocated.

Medical correspondent, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, in a recent CBS “The Early Show” interview, stated, “Patients should ask what every single medication is that they’re given while in the hospital and remind everyone who approaches them with drugs of any allergies they have. Always be aware of dosage mistakes and sound-alike medications.”

Ashton recommended, “Look the surgeon in the eye before an operation.” In other words, she stated that you as the patient should have an opportunity to talk with your surgeon about the procedure before being sedated. “Surgeons should personally sign or initial the skin of the patient over the area that’s being operated on; patients should remind all surgical personnel about the side and/or site of the procedure.” She stressed patient/ doctor communication is key.

For more information about the Hearst Study, go to www.deadlymistake.com.

Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or concerns, e-mail askseniorfocus@aol.com.