We have been blogging in recent weeks about the debate in Washington and the nation on the health care crisis and how we aren't hearing any discussion about addressing the root causes of the crisis, i.e. the underlying unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices (meat and junk food based diets, lack of physical activity, consumption of tobacco, alcohol, illegal drugs, etc.) and the widespread practice of defensive medicine. Another major cause of the bloated medical system's costs to add to the list is the cost of medical mistakes.

To get an actual cost estimate is difficult, but a few statistics help show how significant the problem is. A 2000 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that physician error, medication error and adverse events from drugs or surgery kill over 225,000 people per year in the US.

This makes medical care the 3rd leading cause of death in the US, behind heart disease (710,000) and cancer (553,000). In the China Study, an insightful book by Colin T. Campbell PHD, the breakdown by cause is given as follows:

  • Medication errors 7,400 or 3%
  • Unnecessary surgery 12,000 or 5%
  • Other preventable errors in hospitals 20,000 or 9%
  • Hospital borne infections 80,000 or 35%
  • Adverse drug effects 106,000 or 48% (almost half)

Adverse drug effects, the biggest one, is death from taking the "right" drugs at the prescribed doses, i.e. it is not a medication error, it is the drug you were supposed to get, used at the correct dose, and dying from it. Sometimes you see on prescription drugs a list of side effects, at the very end you may see "death". Well, it isn't something to disregard, 106,000 people a year die from taking their medicine. Apparently 1 in 15, or 7%, of all hospitalized patients have a serious adverse drug reaction that "requires hospitalization, prolongs hospitalization, is permanently disabling, or results in death". And this is a conservative number as only cases definitely attributed to drug side effects are included in the numbers.

The human cost is high, the financial cost to the medical system is also undoubtedly high. When you add it to the medical costs of treating diseases caused by poor diet and lifestyle choices, if we make a few simple changes, we have more than enough money to provide medical insurance for everyone.

If we can get people to change their diets to a predominantly plant based vegetarian diet then they will significantly reduce the likelihood of getting disease. This will keep them out of the medical system, and they won't need the expensive drugs that all too often end up killing them.