Hospitals Don't Kill People: Doctors Kill People

Nanaimo Regional Hospital has come under fire for letting an old man die cold on a guerney in a hallway. Word came of a man's wife who was diagnosed with sinus infection when she actually had a brain aneurysm. The media lept on top of this story. Clearly, the government run hospitals were hurting people. The media put the blame on the government. The government responded with $7 million in quick-fix funding. Unfortunately, that won't do anything.
1/3 of the time, doctors cure their patients. 1/3 of the time, doctor's directions do nothing. 1/3 of the time, doctors harm their patients. Think about how your boss would react if you had this batting average? You'd get tossed out on your ear. Doctors get a raise. Years back, I had this really bad cough and fatigue. I saw my doctor. He said I should take Nyquil. A couple of weeks later, my cold was still really bad. I went to a clinic and that doctor said I may have an ear infection. A couple of weeks after that I almost passed out at work: shortness of breath, cold sweat, uncontrollable cough. I went across the street to the nearby clinic. They took an x-ray (wow, x-rays? That's really cutting edge). Yep: one lung was a solid mass of pheglm. I had advanced pneumonia. I had one of the more common ailments and two out of three doctors missed it.
How many people have similar stories of physician incompetence? I bet every reader has a misdiagnosis story: you were prescribed prozac for a weight problem; you were given blood pressure medication because of your blood pressure spiked during physicals; your dad was told that his heart attack was a torn muscle, so he died later on. There is too much to know-- too many options for a doctor to consider in their diagnosis. "I don't know" is a valid defense for doctors. But they are the last people alive to call uncle. Doctors are infused with confidence: they're force fed sureity like they were in a veal fattening pen. When they give you a diagnosis-- even if it's wildy incorrect-- they deliver it with confidence. While hospitals might contribute to pressures through overcrowding and budget cuts, doctors are solely to blame for misdiagnosis. If a doctor misdiagnoses a patient, they will come back. As long as the patient doesn't die as a side effect of imcompetance, they could come back several times and themselves create a backlog: if an emergency ward can treat 500 cases in a night and 50 (1/3 of the 1/3 who were mistreated) came back once, then misdiagnosis alone accounts for 10% of the cases.
We will never know how bad physician incompetance is. Patient reviews only happen if something dramatic happens (death or great harm). Doctors and the BC Medical Association largely manage themselves: the inmates are running the asylum. Because of doctor-patient confidentiality we can't ask for a stack of files and do a review as taxpayers and patients and next-of-kin.
In the media reports on the Nanaimo crisis, they focussed on the hospital. That was safe. Hospitals beg for money. They roll into a ball to defend themselves from litigation. They are poorly equipped to defend themselves from assault. In the same way, rattling government can get good results. Ministers can put up barricades if need be. When cornered, the government can spend all the cash they want-- after all, they have all our cash.
On the other hand: doctors earn six figures. They have lawyer friends. They give donations to the Liberal candidates they like. They have malpractice insurance. They are also viewers and readers. If the reporters went into the hospital pointed at the idiot doctor(s) who let a women leave with a ticking time bomb in her brain and shouted, "J'Accuse!", they'd be alienating viewers, opening themselves up to a defamation lawsuit, and pinning the blame exactly where it belonged.

tags: Nanaimo, hospitals, malpractice, BCMA, NRGH


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