Going to the hospital can be DANGEROUS. The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that millions of people die each year from medical errors and infections linked to health care. They say that going into hospital is far riskier than flying. Out of every 100 hospitalized patients, 7 in developed and 10 in developing countries will come home with at least one infection, and the longer patients stay in an ICU (intensive care unit), the more they risk getting an infection.

In Reuters, Stephanie Nebehay quotes WHO’s Liam Donaldson as saying, "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." In comparison, the risk of dying in an airplane crash is about 1 in 10 million passengers.

This is true DESPITE the fact that doctors in training (so-called "interns" or "residents") are no longer required to work such long hours and they become sleep-deprived. In the August 7th New York Times Magazine, Darshak Sanghavi writes, "Last month something extraordinary happened at teaching hospitals around the country: Young interns worked for 16 hours straight–and then they went home to sleep. After decades of debate and over the opposition of nearly every major medical organization and 79% of residency-program directors, new rules went into effect that abolished 30-hour overnight shifts for first-year residents. Sanity, it seemed to people who had long been fighting for a change, had finally won out."

Medical researcher Christopher Landrigan ran a yearlong study during which a team of interns at worked alternate rotations, one on the traditional schedule of a 30-hour shift every third night and the other on a staggered schedule, during which the longest shift was only 16 hours. Interns working the traditional 30-hour shifts made 36% more serious medical errors, including ordering drug overdoses. Sanghavi quotes him as saying, "Doctors think they’re a special class and not subject to normal limitations of physiology." The fact that his study’s conclusions did NOT lead to safer hospitalizations dismays him.

In 2009 a Medicare study on thousands of patients from 2002 to 2007 came out, which showed that although a fifth of all hospitalized patients suffered harm from medical errors; cutting trainee work hours had no impact. According to WHO, 1.7 million patients get infections in the hospital ever year, leading to 100,000 deaths. This is a higher rate than in European hospitals, where 4.5 million infections cause 37,000 deaths. Risk is higher in developing countries, with about 15% of patients returning home with infections The sad reality is that more than 50% of the infections get in the hospital can be prevented if health care workers wash their hands with soap and water before treating patients.

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