Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 6, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

MEDICAL ERRORS....Here's an interesting tidbit in the debate about medical malpractice: a new study that suggests one of the causes of malpractice lawsuits is surprise! malpractice.

David Phillips of UC San Diego examined all deaths from medication errors between 1979 and 2000 and discovered that deaths spike around the beginning of the month:

Government assistance payments to the old, the sick and the poor are typically received at the beginning of each month. Because of this, there is a beginning of the month spike in purchases of prescription medicines, Phillips says. Pharmacy workloads go up and in line with both evidence and experience error rates go up as well. Our data suggest that the mortality spike occurs at least partly because of this phenomenon.

....The beginning of the month mortality spike was particularly pronounced in people for whom the mistakes proved rapidly fatal those who were dead on arrival at a hospital, died in the emergency department or as outpatients. In this category, deaths jumped by 25 percent above normal.

In other words, part of the reason for the increased death rate is that when workloads increase at the beginning of each months, many pharmacies react by rushing orders instead of increasing staffing levels.

This is far from the whole story, of course, but it's definitely part of it: one way to cut down on medical malpractice suits is to cut down on medical malpractice. And the sad fact is that we have some pretty good ideas about how to do this, too. If only it got as much attention and lobbying as the insurance industry brings to bear on tort reform, we could cut down on both malpractice and malpractice suits. Quite a concept, eh?

Kevin Drum 12:45 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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