Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

December 30, 2006

Epidemic of errors is real health issue

The Sun's editorial "Malpractice muddle" (Dec. 22) raises the important question of what has caused the fluctuations in doctor's malpractice insurance and notes that we should focus on the facts, rather than the spin, about the causes.

So here are some facts:

A 1999 Institute of Medicine report found that there are 98,000 deaths every year caused by medical errors.

A 2005 "Healthgrades" report found that there were 195,000 deaths from medical error in each year for 2001, 2002 and 2003.

A 2006 follow-up study to the 1999 Institute of Medicine report found that medication errors occur to the average patient at least once per day of hospitalization, harming at least 1.5 million people a year.

A follow-up report by the National Academies of Science states that 400,000 preventable drug-related injuries occur each year in hospitals, 800,000 in long-term care settings and about 530,000 among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics.

A 1999 CDC study concluded that at least 2 million Americans are infected by bacteria spread to them in hospitals -- and approximately 90,000 of them die as a result.

A 2001 investigation of hospital-spread infections conducted by the Chicago Tribune put the numbers of dead from hospital-spread disease each year at more than 100,000.

A 2006 study by the Harvard University School of Public Health found little merit to the "perception that `jackpot' awards in frivolous suits are draining the system."

Maryland has had medical certification as a prerequisite for malpractice claims and caps on pain and suffering awards for 20 years.

In light of these facts, and dozens of similar studies and reports, one wonders why the focus should be on limiting malpractice lawsuits and limiting victims' rights and possible compensation.

The legislature should consider the facts and pass legislation that addresses the epidemic of malpractice and negligence which is causing untold suffering, loss of innocent life and draining the resources of the entire health care system.

Michael Bennett

Baltimore

The writer is president of the Coalition for Patients' Rights

Lawyers exploit liability system

Thank you for The Sun's well-reasoned editorial on medical liability ("Malpractice muddle," editorial, Dec. 22).

As a doctor who is unduly affected by the cost of liability insurance, I agree with one of The Sun's main points: Since the books of the insurers are not open it is hard to know which side to believe.

But I do know one thing -- the system works poorly for the injured (the patients) and for doctors and hospitals.

Studies show that less than one-quarter of the insurance payments made by doctors make their way to those who claim injury. The rest goes, for the most part, to the lawyers (on both sides) and the insurance companies.

And what bothers me is that our legislature, which is in a position to change the system, is heavy with the lawyers who benefit most from the existing system.

When I testified this year before a legislative committee studying this issue, one-third of the members of the committee were lawyers.

But none of them mentioned their obvious conflict of interest or, heaven forbid, recused themselves from dealing with this issue, as would have been be ethically appropriate.

Dr. Sam Akman

Baltimore

Meaning is the key to real recovery

I thank The Sun and our elected officials for finally addressing the addiction problem this city faces ("U.S. bill targets `bupe' limit," Dec. 17).

However, while buprenorphine may be a viable alternative to methadone, which is highly addictive, it still does not address the recovery aspect of the problem.

Recovery from the disease of addiction cannot be implemented when one still consumes any mind-altering and mood-changing substances.

This process begins with an individual's desire to free himself from a self-defeating and self-destructive way of life.

Recovery involves a search for meaning and purpose -- and this cannot happen under the influence of any prescribed medication.

After 10 years of owning and operating a recovery program, I have found that the greatest tool or resource in addressing addiction is spirituality -- an ongoing, active relationship with a source that gives life meaning and purpose.

Israel Cason

Baltimore

The writer is founder and CEO of the I Can't We Can recovery program.

Keep the gospel off sports pages

There are few things more irritating to me than the annual exercises in narcissism and self-congratulation known as "Christmas newsletters."

But The Sun's article "Taking the gospel to the gridiron" (Dec. 24) is representative of a category that comes close -- i.e., articles in the Sports section about athletes and their religion.

Most people read the Sports section because they enjoy sports and want to read about the results of athletic contests and the performances of individual athletes.

Human interest-type stories about the lives of the performers are also welcome.

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