Going into hospital far riskier than flying: WHO

GENEVA Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:23pm EDT

A surgeon washes his hands before enter in an operating room at a hospital in Marseille, France, April 3, 2008. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

A surgeon washes his hands before enter in an operating room at a hospital in Marseille, France, April 3, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Jean-Paul Pelissier

GENEVA (Reuters) - Millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care and going into hospital is far riskier than flying, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

"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.

This compared with a risk of dying in an air crash of about 1 in 10 million passengers, according to Donaldson, formerly England's chief medical officer.

"It shows that health care generally worldwide still has a long way to go," he said.

Hundreds of millions of people suffer infections linked to health care each year. Patients should ask questions and be part of decision-making in hospitals, which must use basic hygiene standards and WHO's checklist to ensure safe surgical procedures were followed.

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

Of every 100 hospitalized patients at any given time, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will acquire at least one health care-associated infection, according to the United Nations agency.

"The longer patients stay in an ICU (intensive care unit), the more at risk they become of acquiring an infection," it said. Medical devices such as urinary catheters and ventilators are associated with high infection rates.


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

"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.

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

"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.

Risk is even higher in developing countries, with about 15 percent of patients acquiring infections, said Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi of the WHO's "Clean Care is Safer Care" program.

"The risk is really higher in high-risk areas of the hospitals, in particular ICUs or neonatal units in developing countries."

About 100,000 hospitals worldwide now 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.

If the checklist is effectively used worldwide, an estimated 500,000 deaths could be prevented each year, it says.

"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.

(Editing by Robert Woodward)

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Comments (11)
bebgsurg wrote:
Uh, a basic comment. Those people going into hospitals are sick. They have a much greater chance of dying than the healthy people who are flying. Comparing the two as if they were similar groups is NON-SENSE, useful only for making catchy headlines. Of course sick people who have to be admitted to hospitals die a lot more often then the healthy flyers. Think of this, people, your mortality rate is 100%, right, you will die. If you die in a hospital which most do, some study or group or consensus statement will find some problem with the care you received. Look at the above story, the longer you stay in an ICU the more likely you will get a urinary infection. YOU ARE EXTREMELY SICK IF YOU HAVE TO STAY A LONG TIME IN AN ICU ! IN FACT YOU MAY DIE. But if you went to an airport instead of a hospital when you have a heart attack or need surgery for cancer, YOU WILL ABSOLUTELY DIE ! Articles like this are moronic. By the way a recent study (see below) grouped 6 “evidence based” measures to reduce infection and compared patients treated with them versus usual care, and they had to conclude that adherence to these measures did NOT reduce infections. So beware of inflammatory articles like this.

Jul 21, 2011 9:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
eyd wrote:
The comparison the risk of flying in an airplane for several hours or less with having the risk of an invasive procedure in a hospital or being admitted to a hospital intensive care unit after a heart attack, stroke or traumatic event makes for good drama but a very little similarity. Emergency medical or surgical conditions are among the highest dangers in life. People having serious symptoms are generally excluded from flying. Healthcare sevices allow for following the outcomes of patients. I am unaware of any airline that does followup of medical complications from passengers. How many passengers develop respiratory infections? How many then go to the hospital? How many then die? The hospital takes the “hit” for “community acquired pneumonia” not the airline.
It is true that all healthcare providers should observe good basic hygiene, aseptic technique and universal precautions. However, the obese, ill-kempt,smoking, physically unfit patients with poor oral hygiene, rashes, intertrigo and/or history of excess alcohol and drug usage and poor nutrition are a set up for disaster. They can walk into a hospital anywhere and little is made of their pre-existing condition.
The majority of patients I interview are unaware of their current health status. They have no idea what current recommendations for exercise are. They do not adhere to a healthy diet by quantity of calories or quality of nutrition. They are unaware or don’t adhere to recommendations regarding alcohol consumpion, hours or sleep, control of blood pressure or blood sugar for diabetics. Most are unaware of the problem with visceral fat, have a BMI>25 and spend a great deal of time in a sedantary lifestyle.
So, I agree hospitals have risks associated with them but most patients create the mileau for problems by their own behavior. Being healthy takes action and education. So get informed, exercise( more that you think-ie. 2000 calories per week), eat healthy and get a good nights sleep. You probably will do more flying and have fewer hospital visits.

Jul 21, 2011 10:06pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Journe wrote:
The comparison is silly. However, as an ex Respiratory Therapist and a patient, I have NOT seen a doctor wash hands before an exam, nor have I seen any nurse or any aide in ICU or room, wash their hands. Also, I knew many therapists who did NOT change ventilator hoses daily, but just signed in that they did so. Infections begging to happen.
Medicine mistakes are really prevelant. I know foreign nurses that cannot do the math on prescriptions and come into room with a handful and say “You take, You take”.. I have personally be left on bedpans for 4 hours with body soaking and bed soaking and never never get washed, changed nothing! More and More I could say. IF you Aware, always ask the doctor what prescription he is giving and what dose and write it down..Make sure when nurse comes in that it is correct. Always HOPE to have a friend or loved one with you daily that can take care and speak up for you, if you unable. IF care is bad, raise heck with your doctor, he will take care of it. IF having surgery, I suggest you make a mark with a Marker Pen on your body part and side before you go!!! Nurses also at times, do NOT count Instruments after surgery finished and things can be left in your body in error. GO HOME as fast as possible and hire home help if needed. Infections and pneumonia are all over the hospital some of which can be prevented by simple 2 minute washing before touching a patient. Patient should bring a can of those disinfectant wipes to hospital..wipe down bed rails, bathroom faucets, anything that you touch. Even bring your own disposable cups in suitcase. I am NOT kidding. Doctors go from patient to patient to patient without washing hands in each room right in front of you. Nurses and aides do even more intimate work without washing in each room. Keep your eyes open if possible. Home asap.
Most all of this Can be prevented and should. It is only getting worse in regards to cleanliness, more patients per doctor per nurse.
I personally have had severe medical errors and when working as a Respiratory Therapist, sure have seen some. There a simple solutions to do. Many foreign people working in healthcare and some just cannot read English well and mistakes can be made. Not all mistakes are done by foreigners I need to say also. I do more cleanliness in my own home than what is done around and for patient care.

Jul 22, 2011 1:47am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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