Could it be twice as dangerous in Canada?

Could it be twice as dangerous in Canada?

Yikes! Five years after the US Institute of Medicine famously declared that up to 100,000 people per year are killed by errors in US hospitals, a Canadian study concludes that the equivalent Canadian figure is about 24,000. Using the typical 10x factor to adjust Canadian numbers to their US equivalent, that would translate to 240,000 lives in a system the size of the US. (The numbers probably aren’t really comparable, and may not even be accurate, but you get the idea.)

The US recommendations focused on a set of hospital-based technology, staffing and training initiatives. The Canadian recommendations focus on changing the culture of medicine to focus on safety (this is also part of the US approach) and establishing a new agency modeled on the agency that investigates airplane, train, and marine disasters. The agency would investigate deaths and near misses, but you can just imagine how busy they would be if they looked at any meaningful percentage of cases!

According to the Montreal Gazette, the study’s authors say privatization, deregulation, and decentralization are exacerbating the safety problem. That’s debatable–especially the point about privatization. It’s notable that in the US auto industry regulation played an important role in improving safety, but that the safety movement really accelerated once car makers found they could use safety claims as a source of competitive advantage. Private enterprise is much more likely to respond that way than a government monopoly.

April 18, 2006

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