CNN medical commentator Sanjay Gupta is known as a TV personality, but he's actually a significant physician as associate chief of neurosurgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. Last week, he issued this jolting alarm:
"A reasonable estimate is that medical mistakes now kill around 200,000 Americans every year. That would make them one of the leading causes of death in the United States."
Horrible. Hospital blunders are lethal to great numbers of people. The rate evidently is worsening, because a landmark 1999 report by the National Institute of Medicine estimated that 98,000 Americans die yearly from medical errors.
Writing in The New York Times, Dr. Gupta said all medical professions strive fervently to prevent mistakes, yet they happen with dismal frequency. His suggested cure: perform less treatment.
To protect themselves against malpractice lawsuits, most U.S. doctors order excessive tests, to double-check for possibly missed conditions, the CNN expert wrote. He continued:
"But each additional procedure or test, no matter how cautiously performed, injects a fresh possibility of error. CT and MRI scans can lead to false positives and unnecessary operations, which carry the risk of complications like infections and bleeding. The more medications patients are prescribed, the more likely they are to accidentally overdose or suffer an allergic reaction. Even routine operations like gallbladder removals require anesthesia, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke."
He told of a female patient who was given antibiotics for a mild virus -- and she suffered a severe allergic reaction and bodywide infection that nearly killed her. Yet "she hadn't even needed the antibiotics that led to such a terrible reaction."
Ironically, less health care can be healthier. West Virginia patients and doctors should ponder this prescription.