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How Hospitals Can Stop Killing as Many Patients

Alarmingly, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in this country. “As many as 25 percent of all patients are harmed by medical mistakes” reports Dr. Marty Makery. Going into a hospital, we have no way of knowing if we will get good care or be one of the 100,000 patients killed or 9 million Americans harmed each year by medical mistakes.

At a medical conference Dr. Marty Makary saw one of his Harvard professors who “looked out at a room of 2,000 doctors and asked ‘How many of you know of another doctor who should not be practicing because he is too dangerous?’  Every hand went up.” Yet few report bad doctors and those that do often get fired.

In fact, unlike repeat offending criminals who get caught, many doctors can keep making similar, even mortal, mistakes on different patients and get away with it.

Hospital staff knows that they are practicing bad medicine and mostly do nothing. In Makary’s provocative book, Unaccountable, he describes one Ivy League-trained doctor who’s popular with patients yet dubbed Hodad, by his colleagues, for his continuing string of patient deaths. Hodad is their dark humored acronym for “hands of death and destruction.”

While the code of silence and cloak of secrecy around patient survival and recovery remains the norm in most of the country, there are ways you can increase the chances that you will get better care, according to Makary, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and a professor at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

1. If you don’t know if your doctor is competent for the kind of care you appear to need, ask one or two medical professionals at the hospital to give their personal recommendation of a doctor in that field.

2. No matter what your current doctor’s hospital affiliation may be, look online for unbiased sources to compare hospitals and doctors, and to learn more about your condition and your options. Start with these websites:,, and HospitalCompare.

3.  When a doctor proposes surgery, ask:

• What happens if I don’t do this?

• What other options do I have?

• What are the risks and the benefits for each alternative, based on statistical outcomes? 

Learn more ways to increase the chances you get the best care possible for your condition. Read the rest of this column over at Forbes.

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