A surgical sponge is left in an incision. The wrong leg gets amputated. These are the hospital horror stories that stick in our minds. But it's the commonplace ones that pose a far greater risk to the thirty million Americans entering the hospital each year.
One in 10 patients is discharged from the hospital with an infection he or she didn't have going in. Each year about 80,000 people die from such an illness. Studies show that even patients at the most prestigious hospitals receive the wrong drugs 2 to 3 percent of the time. In some hospitals, the number rises to 11 percent.
And if 95 percent of credit card bills were wrong, consumers would riot in the streets. But little protest followed a 1991 General Accounting Office survey revealing a 95 percent error rate on hospital bills.
But there's a dose of good news. A little awareness and some simple steps can make a big difference.
Doctors and hospitals make mistakes. But patients are mistaken if they think they can't do anything to help themselves.