Third Leading Cause of Death in the US? Hospitals.

I have long encouraged people to avoid going to hospitals if they can help it. Just last year, I wrote a column for Risk & Insurance on this very topic. But the message bears repeating, because the numbers are staggering.

An estimated​ 440,000 people die each year in the hospital – and not from the cause that initiated their hospital treatment.  That represents the third leading cause of death in this country, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Consider this:

40,000 people die annually in automobile accidents.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and other groups focus on drunk drivers and car safety, saving lives every year.  It’s a worthy cause, and to be commended—but does anyone know that approximately 10 times more people die each year from medical errors in hospitals, than from all auto accidents in the US?

Less than 12,000 people a year are murdered in this country.  A horrible statistic, to be sure—but 3,688% more are accidentally killed by our own hospital system on an annual basis.  Which do we hear about on the news?

It is a terrible situation.

When it comes to hospital treatment, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Avoid summer treatment.  New doctors (residents) start in the summer, and they have very little experience. The more experienced residents are looking for jobs to pay for their massive debt and are not as engaged.  A lot more full-time doctors are on vacation.  Due to these dynamics, the hospital accident rate is highest during the summer months.
  • Ask about every medication being administered.  If it does not feel right or necessary, do not take it.  You can ask for a case manager or advocate if you do not understand or agree with treatment or medication.  Overtreatment and/or overmedicating are primary causes of accidental deaths.
  • When possible, avoid procedures in the hospital.  If something can be done in an office or outpatient surgical center setting, try to have it performed there.  Remember, many physician groups are being purchased by hospital groups, and they are now incentivized to drive care to the hospital setting.  The bottom line is, as an individual patient, you need to look out for yourself. You are your own best health advocate.

As a company, this is why discharge management is one of the top goals of our care management programs—to get patients out of inpatient treatment as quickly and safely as possible. It is also a main driver and value proposition of our Surgical Care Program (SCP), which moves surgical care out of hospitals and into quality, ambulatory surgical center settings. It just makes good healthcare sense to mitigate these very real risks whenever we can.