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Last updated on April 23, 2014 at 1:22 EDT

WHO: Millions Of People Die Each Year Due To Medical Errors

July 22, 2011

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday that millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care, and going into hospital is far riskier than flying, according to a recent Reuters report.

“If you were admitted to hospital tomorrow in any country… your chances of being subjected to an error in your care would be something like 1 in 10. Your chances of dying due to an error in health care would be 1 in 300,” Liam Donaldson, the WHO’s newly appointed envoy for patient safety, told a news briefing.

According to Donaldson, this compared with a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers.

“It shows that health care generally worldwide still has a long way to go,” he told reporters.

Over 50 percent of acquired infections can be prevented if health care workers clean their hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based handbag before treating patients.

According to the U.N., seven hospitals in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health care-associated infection.

“The longer patients stay in an ICU (intensive care unit), the more at risk they become of acquiring an infection,” it said.

According to WHO, 1.7 million infections are acquired in hospital each year in the U.S., leading to 100,000 deaths. 

“Health care is a high-risk business, inevitably, because people are sick and modern health care is delivered in a fast-moving, high-pressured environment involving a lot of complex technology and a lot of people,” Donaldson said during the news briefing.

He said a heart operation can involve a team of up to 60 people, about the same number needed to run a jumbo jet.

“Infection is a big problem, injuries after falls in hospitals is a big problem and then there are problems that are on a smaller scale but result in preventable deaths. Medication errors are common,” he said.

About 100,000 hospitals around the world use the WHO’s surgical safety checklist, which the agency said has been shown to reduce surgery complications by 33 percent and deaths by 50 percent.

It said that if the checklist is effectively used worldwide, about 500,000 deaths could be prevented each year.

“Frankly, if I was having an operation tomorrow I wouldn’t go into a hospital that wasn’t using the checklist because I wouldn’t regard it as safe,” said Donaldson.

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