Hearst project looks at toll of medical mistakes

Andrew Van Dam

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

A team of reporters from Hearst news organizations across the country contributed to “Dead by Mistake,” a broad investigation into deaths caused by “preventable medical injuries,” of which the reporters estimate there are almost “200,000 per year in the United States.” A decade after a federal report challenged the medical community to halve the accidental death rate, the toll taken by medical mistakes has instead increased even further, the Hearst reporters found. Furthermore, reporters found that “the medical community, the federal government and most states have overwhelmingly failed to take the effective steps outlined in the report a decade ago.”

According to the report, the American Medical Association and American Hospital Association are partly to blame, as they have opposed any mandatory reporting of medical accident. Even in the 20 states that have implemented mandatory reporting rules, research indicates that only a small fraction of accidents are actually reported. Despite this “chaotic, dysfunctional patchwork,” the Obama administration is not supporting national mandatory reporting.

Cathleen Crowley and Eric Nalder’s centerpiece, which focuses on hospital reporting of mistakes, is an informative read for anyone interested in the availability of hospital safety data on national and local levels, both now and in the future.

The package as a whole includes local stories for Hearst markets including California, Texas, Washington, Connecticut and New York as well as a number of in-depth anecdotes and stories with a national scope.

Editor Phil Bronstein explains how the project was reported, including compiling and analyzing nine databases and conducting hundreds of interviews. The cross-platform project involved journalists from print, television reporters and the Web. BayNewser has a Q&A with Bronstein about how the project was done.

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