Risk & Perspective

Another year, another Shark Week, and another flurry of criticism about how such programming demonizes the animal and creates totally out-of-proportion fear. A nifty graphic that briefly made the rounds on Facebook last week shows just how out-of-proportion:


For any number of reasons, people just aren’t very good at evaluating risks – something that’s also been apparent lately with respect to the African Ebola outbreak.

Earlier this week, local news reported that a “low-risk” individual who may have been exposed to Ebola was being seen in a Sacramento hospital. Naturally, they got quotes from other patients worried about exposure.

Suffice it to say that the odds of an Ebola outbreak here in the Central Valley or elsewhere in the US are remote. Yes, the virus is deadly. It’s also not airborne. It can only be transmitted through close contact and the exchange of blood, saliva or other bodily fluids. As one professor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health recently told the Post-Gazette, people need to “have some perspective on this.”

Even though this is the largest Ebola outbreak ever, there are other infectious diseases that cause millions of deaths per year — influenza, tuberculosis, dengue, malaria — but do not have the urban legend status of Ebola.

Which brings us to a paper we recently stumbled upon, which offers a new assessment of “adverse events” in hospital care. The study was published last fall in the Journal of Public Safety, and the difference between the author’s findings and previous Institute of Medicine estimates is stark, to say the least.

Based on 1984 data developed from reviews of medical records of patients treated in New York hospitals, the Institute of Medicine estimated that up to 98,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. The basis of this estimate is nearly 3 decades old; herein, an updated estimate is developed from modern studies published from 2008 to 2011.

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Using a weighted average of the 4 studies, a lower limit of 210,000 deaths per year was associated with preventable harm in hospitals. Given limitations in the search capability of the Global Trigger Tool and the incompleteness of medical records on which the Tool depends, the true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year. Serious harm seems to be 10- to 20-fold more common than lethal harm.

Two hundred and ten thousand to over 400,000 deaths each year? That is something worth being concerned about.


About The Verigin Dental Health Team

A humanistic, holistic dental practice in Northern California, providing integrative, biological, mercury-free dentistry
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