Health advocates reveal how doctors, hospitals error in book
Joe and Teresa Graedon give lots of health care advice in their syndicated column, “The People’s Pharmacy,” and on their National Public Radio show by the same name.
He’s a pharmacologist, and she’s a medical anthropologist.
They’ve written books on topics from herbal remedies to deadly drug interactions.
They should know how to get the best medical care.
But in 1996, Joe’s 92-year-old mother, Helen, died as the result of errors made at Duke Hospital.
Joe Graedon thought he had been a good advocate. He stayed by his mother’s bedside and repeatedly told her caregivers that she couldn’t tolerate morphine and other narcotics. But in the end, he said, “You have to trust the doctor.”
He felt guilty about not being able to protect her. But soon that guilt turned to action.
He and his wife reconstructed the steps leading to Helen Graedon’s death, and that story opens their new book, “Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.”
“A series of medical errors led to the horrific conclusion of a wonderful life,” they write. “We could have sued Duke Hospital for the series of mistakes that were made (Instead) we began a long campaign to try to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety.”
The couple served on patient-safety committees at Duke and believe it is “a much safer place” today.
“Serious mistakes are made at every hospital in America on a daily basis,” the Graedons write.
“ The death toll from health care screw-ups adds up to at least 500,000 Americans annually. That is the equivalent of more than three jumbo jets crashing every day of the year.
“Because these individuals are dying at home, in hospitals, or in nursing homes, no one is counting the bodies … The medical profession seems largely immune to the consequences of its errors.”
The Graedon’s book contains more than a dozen lists to help patients and families get the best care.
There are lists of common mistakes made in hospitals or by doctors and pharmacists. Lists of tips to prevent medical errors, dangerous drug interactions and diagnostic disasters. And lists of suggestions to promote good communication.
If medical mistakes were a disease, the Graedons write, “there would be a great deal of hand wringing.” There would be an organization, such as the American Cancer Society, to raise awareness.
“Instead, the medical establishment mostly acts as if this problem were invisible. … No other profession could get away with so many screw-ups and still maintain public confidence.”