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The United States has the most expensive health care in the world. Often times, this does not equate into the most effective and high quality care that is available in the world.

This is due in part, to the sheer number of medical errors which occur in America every year. The numbers are staggering: First, there are more than 1.5 million medication errors every year and from those errors, there are more than 100,000 deaths which are a direct result of such errors as well as an additional 57,000 deaths from quality gaps within the hospitals.

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The costs which are associated with these errors, financially speaking, are more than $37.6  billion a year. (www.consumeraffairs.com) However, there is a more prevalent cost which speaks to more than just the immediate financial costs of the error. Some errors in the health care which one receives, many times will not lead to the death of the individual but will severely impede that person’s ability to work and to continue his or her once healthy and productive lifestyle before they were given such erroneous care.

This is the real effect that medication errors have for those who have the misfortune of being treated by incompetent doctors and an untrained medical staff, who despite being one of the worst health care organizations in the developed world, is by far, the most expensive.

In one study by the American Medical Association, 1133 medical cases were preventable because of the wrong medication being given to the patient. Sadly, this is only a small portion of the national number of errors which are associated from the pharmacist giving his patient the wrong medication. (www.hhs.gov)

The United States department of Health and Human Services found that a staggering 2.4 million prescriptions are filled incorrectly every year. (www.hhs.gov) This is contributed to a simple error by the pharmacy or the tragic and more common result of an illegible prescription. Awareness of the problem has been growing since the mid 1990’s when President Clinton formed the Quality Interagency Coordination Task Force after the recommendation of a number of key findings from key studies which dealt with these problems.

The final report of the President’s Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry, painted a bleak picture of the competency of America’s health care system. As a result, in recent years, America, though far from perfect, is improving their health care record, if only by encouraging the general public to be more aware of the prescriptions that they are taking and the possible side effects of such medications as well as the need to seek a second medical opinion.

All of this has lead to the distrust of the American health care system and as a result, those who follow the presidential debates over the next few months, will hear a greater call than ever before, for universal health care.

Despite the exponential rise in taxes and a push towards socialism that such a move will make, many are not phased by such possibilities as they are thou rally disgusted with the American health care system in America and that so much of the citizens’ hard earned money, goes to buy so little quality care.

81% of surveyed Americans feared the possibility of being given the wrong medicine and that 56% of Americans were very concerned about complications from a medical procedure and felt that it was “highly likely” that they believed such an event would occur. ( Corrigan, 2000 pg. 18)

Some could chalk this up to the normal pessimism and worry that are often times associated with a major medical procedure. Others however, can point to the sheer number of medication errors which occur in this country every year and that “one is playing Russian Roulette when that person enters an American hospital.” (Page, 2007 pg A16)

One of the most difficult aspects assessing the costs of each medical error is the price which should be put on the error. How can that be done? It seems rather insulting for a price to be put on the avoidable death of a loved one from a medical error.

However, in such cases, juries have believed that both the medical community as well as the loved ones of the deceased, that such events should be avoided and that those who have been affected by it, are important and their suffering should be recognized and compensated. The effects that medical errors have on individuals can be put into two different categories: those who die from such mistakes and those whose recovery is impeded by such mistakes.

As an example, there is the case of Kathy McGaghie, a 53 year old secretary at the University of Chicago Hospital. She went in for a major surgery on her back. A two foot titanium pole was placed in her back in order to help fuse together a number of the vertebra. Hours after the end of the surgery, Mrs. McGaghie had to be rushed back into surgery because a screw had come lose and was floating to her heart. Failure to stop this would result in immediate death.

Therefore, as a result of such a glaring mistake, Mrs. McGaghie had to be subjected to another major surgery and no apology from the doctor. She lived but as a result, her recovery time was extended from three months to more than six months.

Adding to the horrific pain and slow recovery time of the surgery, added pressure was put on her finances and the finances of her family as an extended work leave was required. The hours that she missed can be added up and a financial total can be reached. However, what cannot be so easily tallied is the cost of the worry and pain which was associated with the extra pain and suffering.

Kathy McGaghie and her family were no strangers to the effects of medical errors on their family. Her great aunt died from what was initially viewed as a routine procedure to make adjustments to her great aunt’s pace maker. However, the lady died and it was later discovered that she died from being subjected to a severely high dosage of anesthesia which proved to be fatal. The jury, after a number of years of legal fighting, awarded John Szymanski, $3.1 million for the death of his beloved wife.

The cost of pain and suffering was totaled at $3.1 million.  However, in the real life feelings of the husband, such an award was a small price for the more than fifty years that the two had been married. Mr. Szymanski would later state: “The money is nice but I would trade it for a second for another year with my wife.

I am more lonely now than ever before” (Interview, 2007)  In this instance, it can never be correctly measured, the accurate cost of a premature death of a loved one from a medical error. One only needs to ask those who have lost their loved ones to such errors in order to find out for themselves.

Along with the independent study group which President Clinton implemented in 1999, there have also been a number of other self evident suggestions which have been implemented in recent years. One of the most common is the importance that is placed on prescriptions which can be readily read by both the patient and his or her pharmacist. The second is a greater independence upon technology so that handwritten prescriptions can be a thing of the past.

Also, the avoidance of similar sounding medications is being stressed to drug companies all across the country in order to eliminate human error. Also, for many people, the possibility of America implementing universal health care is one which brings a lot of hope to those who believe in the socialization of medicine and who are able to trust the government to handle such a large task.

In the August 2nd  version of the Chicago Tribune from this year, there was a feature article about how far the call for universal health care for our nation’s poor children has come and that it has a real chance in Congress.

“I appreciate the free clinics, Tawanda, Johnson states, but if we had universal health care in this country, I believe that the quality of care would be better because everybody would be getting the same level of care regardless of their financial situation.”

(Page, 2007 pg. 3) Those who believe in universal care, believe that such medical errors will be greatly reduced. Even though universal health care has yet to come to America, since it will be one of the most imminent topics in the upcoming presidential debates, one can safely assume that more Americans will form a lasting opinion on the issue and will help bring more attention to such a proposition than ever before.

There are a number of ways in which the financial costs of a medical error should be computed. First, if the patient dies, how can a price are set for another human life? Juries try their best to come up with a respectable figure but for that patient’s loved ones, no amount will take the pain away from such a loss.

If the patient does not die from the error, there is still present a number of factors which impedes the happiness and contentment which was expected to come from a successful surgery and post operation treatment. However, medical errors at this time, even if the patient enjoyed a successful surgery, can serve to impede the recovery time as well as the future quality of life that individual can expect to enjoy for the rest of his or her life.

This does not only affect the earning potential of the individual but also his or her happiness as well as the happiness of all those who care and love that person. In this instance, no amount of money can fix the wound that is caused from human error; regardless of whether or not a review board deemed the error avoidable or unavoidable. Such findings never serve to replace the pain and loss that the patient and his loved ones have felt.

However, if it seeks to shed some light on the problem that America has with the high number of medical errors, while at the same time, spending more money on health care than anywhere in the world, it should evoke the nation to wonder why such things are allowed to happen in the United States of America.

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