In 2004, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a shocking study on the frequency of medical errors.
Researchers examined a random sample of charts over a year at one teaching hospital, one large community hospital, and two small community hospitals in each of five provinces, including B.C.
There were no psychiatric or obstetric patients in the study, which took place over the fiscal year 2000,
The researchers discovered that 7.5 percent of patients experienced at least one “adverse event”, and 36.9 percent of these adverse events were considered “highly preventable”.
Extrapolating the results suggested that adverse events were linked to between 141,250 and 232,250 admissions to Canadian acute-care hospitals that year.
The study also reported that 9,250 to 23,750 preventable deaths occurred.
You read that correctly: up to 23,750 preventable deaths took place in acute-care hospitals in Canada in a single year, according to the CMAJ study.
In 2007, the CMAJ published another troubling study, this time by University of Toronto medical professor Wendy Levinson and University of Washington associate professor of medicine Thomas Gallagher.
They reported that “adverse events”, including errors, occur frequently in health care.
“Disclosing errors to patients is challenging for both physicians and health care institutions,” they wrote. “Recent studies suggest that harmful medical errors are infrequently disclosed to patients and, despite a malpractice environment that is less onerous than in many countries, Canadian patients are no more likely to be informed about harmful errors than patients elsewhere.”
Last week, the Georgia Straight published an article on homeopathy, which is an alternative approach commonly used in Germany, India, and other countries. We published a disclaimer at the bottom of the piece saying it didn't necessarily reflect the views of the paper.
For that, we’ve been pilloried by some readers and members of a local skeptics' group, even though there is no evidence that homeopathic remedies have any dangerous side effects.
As I read the comments from outraged readers, I asked myself: “Do these people ever raise their voices in protest against the frequency of medical errors, which actually kill people? Do they ask what the B.C. government or the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. are doing about this situation? Or do they just get in an uproar about alternative health treatments?”
The medical community loves its peer-reviewed research, which is often underwritten by drug companies. But when Toronto physician Nancy Olivieri tried to publish some of her research that threatened the industry's profits, she was shut down.
The reality is that some people doubt the effectiveness of flu vaccines because the virus mutates so rapidly. Some wonder if their vaccine will have any efficacy against the particular flu virus that they might contract months down the road.
Some of these flu-vaccine skeptics might be inclined to consider homeopathy as an alternative.
Judging from the CMAJ-published research, the biggest threat to human health isn't homeopathy; it's that trip to your local hospital.