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Hearst National Investigation Finds Americans Are Continuing to Die in Staggering Numbers From Preventable Medical Injuries
Date:8/8/2009

NEW YORK, Aug. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- An estimated 200,000 Americans will die needlessly from preventable medical mistakes and hospital infections this year, according to "Dead By Mistake," a wide-ranging Hearst national investigation, which began reporting the findings today [www.deadbymistake.com]. Despite an authoritative federal report 10 years ago that laid out the scope of the problem and urged the federal and state governments and the medical community to take clear and tangible steps to reduce the number of fatal medical errors, a staggering 98,000 Americans die from preventable medical errors each year and just as many from hospital-acquired infections.

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"Dead By Mistake" is the result of an investigation conducted by Hearst newspaper and television journalists.

Ten years ago, the highly-publicized federal report, "To Err Is Human," highlighted the alarming death toll from preventable medical injuries and called on the medical community to cut it in half-- in five years. Its authors and patient safety advocates believed that its release would spur a revolution in patient safety. But Hearst's "Dead By Mistake" reveals that the federal government and most states have made little or no progress in improving patient safety through accountability mechanisms or other measures. According to the Hearst investigation, special interests worked to ensure that the key recommendations in the report -- most notably a mandatory national reporting system for medical errors -- were never implemented.

Among the key findings of the Hearst investigation:

  • 20 states have no medical error reporting at all, five states have voluntary reporting systems and five are developing reporting systems;
  • Of the 20 states that require medical error reporting, hospitals report only a tiny percentage of their mistakes, standards vary wildly and enforcement is often nonexistent;
  • In terms of public disclosure, 45 states currently do not release hospital-specific information;
  • Only 17 states have systematic adverse-event reporting systems that are transparent enough to be useful to consumers;
  • The national patient-safety center is underfunded and has fallen far short of expectations;
  • Congress approved legislation for "Patient Safety Organizations" as a voluntary system for hospitals to report and learn from errors, but the new organizations are devoid of meaningful oversight and further exclude the public;
  • Hearst journalists interviewed 20 of the 21 living authors of "To Err is Human" -- 16 believe that the U.S. hasn't come close to reducing medical errors by half, the primary stated goal of the report;
  • New York's reporting system has run out of money and staff -- its last public report is four years old;
  • The law mandating reporting in Texas expired in 2007, and funding ran out -- a new reporting law has been passed, but no funds have been allocated;
  • Washington State requires reporting, but doesn't enforce that requirement -- and the legislature failed to provide funds to analyze the results.

"Dead By Mistake" includes profiles of more than 30 people who died or were injured while seeking medical care. Most lost their lives, some in lingering pain. Others lived on, with paralysis, amputation, burns and emotional distress. Families suffered in the aftermath. In some cases, paperwork was lost, or mischaracterized the cause. "Ranging in age from newborn to 91, these Americans are a small sample of a huge and poorly accounted for population," said Hearst Newspapers Editor-at-Large Phil Bronstein, who oversaw the project. "To the families, each case is a unique and compelling argument as to why a system that allows such preventable mistakes is intolerable."

In addition to investigative reporting and case profiles, DeadByMistake.com features an interactive map that provides a state-by-state snapshot of reporting systems and two interactive databases created as part of this investigation. One database tracks hospitals' participation in three prominent national safety programs. The second brings together the millions of anonymous patient discharge records that Hearst reporters collected from California, Texas, New York and Washington. Hearst worked with expert statisticians at the Niagara Health Quality Coalition, a not-for-profit think tank, to analyze this data to produce never-before published patient safety ratings from medical details buried in hospital records. The results appear on five searchable databases with interactive maps.


"More people die each month of preventable medical injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," Bronstein added. "The annual medical error death toll is higher than that for fatal car crashes."

Bronstein continued, "'Dead By Mistake' is the result of two things converging: a critical and neglected health-care issue that dramatically affects hundreds of thousands of Americans every year and the tireless work of a team of skilled and dedicated journalists."

The investigation utilized the reporting resources of seven Hearst newspapers -- the San Francisco Chronicle, Albany Times Union, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Greenwich Time, Stamford Advocate and the Connecticut Post -- as well as SeattlePI.com and Hearst Television. In addition to contributing to the national television, print and Web stories, these Hearst journalists also produced market-specific reports highlighting the results of local investigations. Students, faculty and graduates of the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism also contributed research, stories, photos, audio, video and Web content to the report.

"This comprehensive investigation allowed us to draw on the unique journalistic resources of our various Hearst properties and platforms, and enabled us to broaden the breadth and depth of the reporting," Bronstein said. "This investigation is a new, collaborative way of reporting, but, more importantly, it is a public service focusing on the plague of fatal and preventable hospital errors."

"Dead By Mistake" is the third Hearst investigative reporting initiative, following January's series on Boy Scouts councils across the country logging and selling prime woodlands to turn quick profits, sometimes on lands that were bequeathed to the organization for preservation purposes. Before that, Hearst Newspapers' I-team investigated disastrous military housing privatization programs across the country, which earned a 2008 George Polk Award for Military Reporting.

Hearst Corporation (www.hearst.com) is one of the nation's largest diversified media companies. Its major interests include ownership of 15 daily and 49 weekly newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle and Albany Times Union; as well as interests in an additional 43 daily and 72 non-daily newspapers owned by MediaNews Group, which include the Denver Post and Salt Lake Tribune; nearly 200 magazines around the world, including Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and O, The Oprah Magazine; 29 television stations that reach a combined 18% of U.S. viewers; ownership in leading cable networks, including Lifetime, A&E, History and ESPN; as well as business publishing, including a minority joint venture interest in Fitch Ratings; Internet businesses, television production, newspaper features distribution and real estate.


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SOURCE Hearst Corporation
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