Is Going to the Hospital Riskier Than Flying?

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More food for thought on the health news front courtesy of the World Health Organization (WHO): millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care and this makes going into hospital far riskier than flying.

According to the WHO, 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 one in 10.
Your chances of dying due to an error in health care would be 1 in 300. Compare this with your risk of dying in an air crash, which is about one in 10 million passengers.

What do these alarming statistics mean? Well, for starters, it shows that health care still has a long way to go. Medical errors, infections and prescription drug side effects are still a big problem when it comes to hospital stays.

For example, the WHO estimates that hundreds of millions of people suffer infections linked to health care each year. Of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, seven in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health-care-associated infection, according to the United Nations agency. The longer you stay in an intensive care unit (ICU), the more at risk you become for acquiring an infection. Medical devices such as urinary catheters and ventilators are associated with high infection rates.

Each year in the United States alone, 1.7 million infections are acquired in hospital, leading to 100,000 deaths. This is a far higher rate than in Europe, where 4.5 million infections cause 37,000 deaths, according to WHO.

Why the high risk? The WHO says that health care is a high-risk business 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.

They cite a heart operation as an example. Heart surgery involves a team of up to 60 people, about the same number needed to run a jumbo jet.

This doesn’t mean you should avoid hospitals — they’re a necessary part of the health-care system and could save your life at some point. But you need to be aware.

The WHO has these suggestions to minimize your risks during a hospital stay. Ask questions and be part of decision-making in hospitals. Help to make sure your hospital uses basic hygiene standards and the WHO checklist to ensure safe surgical procedures are followed.

The WHO says about 100,000 hospitals worldwide now use its surgical safety checklist, which has resulted in a reduction in surgery complications by 33% and deaths by 50%.

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