November 03, 2005

Really now?

US leads way in medical errors: study

Hmmm. Interesting that the study (at least as it is reported in the article) is not based upon a scientific look at misdiagnosis or lab errors using a standardized set of criteria common to all the countries, but rather is based upon patient reporting.

Not to say that patients don't know when they've been done wrong, but it is much more likely for a patient to fill out a survey of this sort when they HAVE had a screw up.

Second, the idea that test results are being delayed--by what time clock? Is it the same clock that told us FEMA should have New Orleans completely rebuilt by now? If your expectation of test result timing are based upon some mistaken belief that they should be done quicker than they turn out to be, you would be much more willing to believe that it's being done slower for you than other people.

Likewise, if you have been led to believe that your system of medical treatment is far superior to others, you might think that your results are just fine, or that the errors made in your case aren't that bad. It's a bit like those surveys of car owner satisfaction--it used to be (it might still be) that the expensive foreign makes all had incredibly high levels of owner satisfaction, despite the fact that objective measures of quality such as time in the repair shop showed them to be less reliable than some of the lower-priced makes. People were willing to overlook such things--sometimes because they might have been afraid to admit buying an expensive lemon.

If your expectations are unreasonably high (or low), your experiences might be a less than reliable indicator of actual performance.

Further, the issue of cost. The study seems to suggest (and many people seem to believe) that tax money comes from the sky in pretty parachuted bundles. Although patients might have lower out of pocket costs in socialized medicine schemes, that's only because their pockets have already been pilfered to pay for the system in the first place.

Anyway, remember what Mark Twain said.

UPDATE 11/4/05--More on the subject from James Joyner.

Posted by Terry Oglesby at November 3, 2005 04:39 PM