Health News: Are CYA Protocols Leading to Medical Mistakes?

Sanjay Gupta, MD, recently wrote a rather sobering column in the New York Times. According to a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, up to 98,000 Americans died every year due to medical mistakes. Current estimates put the number at 200,000. Gupta’s theory is that this is due to the tremendous explosion in treatment—office visits, prescriptions written, and tests run—each of which carries a risk, however small. “Since 1996, the percentage of doctor visits leading to at least five drugs’ being prescribed has nearly tripled, and the number of MRI scans quadrupled,” he writes.

Many of these tests are needed, but an ever-increasing amount are what he calls “defensive medicine,” meant to protect the hospital and practitioner from lawsuits, so perhaps our litigious propensities deserve a lion’s share of the blame. The good news is that smart people are working on the problem—and empowered patients are always free to question whether a procedure is truly warranted.