A new report on the quality of healthcare provided in wealthy countries found Canada lags behind in several areas, including four out of five patient safety indicators. The news is discouraging but not surprising for medical malpractice lawyers and patient safety activists who have been calling for systematic improvements for years.
Data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) show Canada reporting elevated rates of foreign objects being left inside patients’ bodies during surgery, obstetrical trauma, and pulmonary embolisms following hip and knee surgeries. The data includes reporting from 36 members of the international Organization for Co-operation and Development (OECD). Not every country was able to provide data from every indicator.
Canada was near or above average on 45 of the 57 total indicators, and our survival rate for several types of cancer is excellent. But our ranking on patient safety is a grave concern. More than 550 foreign objects remained in surgical patients’ bodies over the last two years, a rate of 9.8 per 100,000 hospital discharges; the OECD average rate was 3.8 per 100,000. Obstetrical trauma rates were at least double the OECD average.
CIHI director of health system analysis and emerging issues Tracy Johnson tried to explain to the CBC how foreign objects get left in patients’ bodies.
“Some surgeries are long and complicated and if they have to change people during that surgery because some surgeries last a long time, it may be that things get missed because of that,” she explained. “It may be that they don’t have protocols in place – surgical checklists are one of the things that are utilized to try and prevent a number of things happening. We know that patient safety is complicated. People don’t go to work to make mistakes but these things happen.”
Sandi Kossey, senior director of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, reminded the CBC that CIHI’s data did not include medical errors that take place in non-hospital settings.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg with respect to all types of serious preventable patient harm that happens in health-care institutions,” she said. “This is only focusing on hospitals so we know that preventable harm happens in all health-care encounters in all care settings. We know from the available data just in general that preventable harm in health-care is the third leading cause of death in Canada and that in terms of mortality only follows behind cancer and heart disease. And the general public doesn’t truly understand the true magnitude of preventable harm.”
In other words, as worrying as CIHI’s rankings may be, they don’t reflect the scope of the issue as it is being felt by patients, healthcare advocates, and medical malpractice lawyers.
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