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September 27th, 2010
05:03 PM ET

Key to being an empowered patient: Trust your gut

1.5 million Americans are injured each year due to medication errors, the  Institute of Medicine says.

That’s roughly the same number of people who live in Idaho. You don’t have to be a statistic. All this week, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen will share tips with viewers for staying safe in medical situations. The first lesson: Trust your gut.

For more lessons, tune into The Empowered Patient, Saturday, October 2nd at 7 p.m. ET.


soundoff (50 Responses)
  1. Meryl Dorey

    In the developed world, the situation is the same everywhere. More people killed by medical error and adverse reactions to properly prescribed medications than any other cause. Doctors are now more dangerous then heart disease, cancer and drunk driving. Yet instead of saying – put on the brakes – this runaway train is running down far too many innocent people! What do we do? We demonise safe and effective natural therapies. It makes no sense.

    The NZ Coroner was charged with investigating the harm done by natural therapies. After a long investigation, he reported back to say that he was unable to find ANY deaths or serious reactions to these remedies. His question at the end of this investigation? Why was I asked to investigate these safe remedies when we have such a high rate of death and permanent disability being caused by Western medicine? His question is a good one.

    Meryl Dorey
    Australian Vaccination Network

    September 27, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Citizen Kane

      Oh great another anti-vaccine quack. Please take your garbage elsewhere.

      September 27, 2010 at 19:00 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Meryl, you do more harm than good. Your posts are full of complete fabrications. Just shut up.

      September 27, 2010 at 19:23 | Report abuse |
    • KC

      Yes, iatrogenesis is a leading cause of death in the developed world. Sometimes, I think we'd be better off without doctors.

      September 27, 2010 at 20:26 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      KC, it's nothing of the kind. Knock off your lying.

      September 27, 2010 at 22:41 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      And KC, do us all a favor: if you think you'd be better off without doctors, go to the Congo and see how well people there do without medical care. No one's holding a gun to your head and forcing you to seek medical care. Don't. It'll simply be evidence that Darwin was right.

      September 27, 2010 at 22:53 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Is this the same Meryl Dorey that can't add up a simple vaccination schedule?

      http://mycolleaguesareidiots.com/archive/2010/07/18/504.aspx

      Why yes, I do believe it is.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:00 | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      Right. Natural remedies have no serious reactions. Tell that to the people who had their faces burnt off through the use of corrosive bloodroot agents in a vain attempt to cure cancer. How are your One Answer to Cancer DVD's selling Meryl ? Still spruiking that black salve ?

      September 28, 2010 at 01:11 | Report abuse |
    • reasonablehank

      Do these names ring a bell, Mrs Dorey?
      Isabella Denley.
      Gloria Thomas Sam.
      Penelope Dingle.
      All dead, thanks to reliance on homeopathy. You disgusting woman.

      Here's a protip: sick people die in hospitals. Lots of sick people are being treated for their sickness. Do the math. Oops, sorry, I forgot I was talking to Meryl Dorey. Scrap the math part.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:19 | Report abuse |
    • George P. Burdell

      Mrs Dorey... I hope you do stay in Australia and not return to the US. I feel for the Aussie children that have died because of your medical advice.. and now you are advising people to not seek medical treatment. Please just go away and spew your ignorance someplace where it will not kill people who listen to it.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:33 | Report abuse |
    • David F

      "More people killed by medical error and adverse reactions to properly prescribed medications than any other cause"

      Where is your evidence for this? Cardiovascular disease is the largest killer world wide.

      People like yourself totally making up lies to promote your anti-medical, anti-science consipiracy theories are a danger and get people killed. You put yourself in a position that appears to be of authority and cannot even get the basics correct.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:42 | Report abuse |
    • Common Misconception

      The study you mention only states that the remedies are safe, not effective. It’s not hard for a treatment to be safe when it doesn’t do anything.

      You are amazing. Are you the kind of person that blames seatbelts for your injuries when you get into a car accident? Never mind that you could have been killed, seatbelts are obviously dangerous because you got a bruise. Get your cause and effect straight. Infectious disease was the leading cause of death under a century ago, and since we discovered how to make antibiotics and vaccines it became chronic diseases. If doctors are now the leading cause of death (which isn’t even close to the truth), it just means they are doing their job! The other leading causes didn’t just magically go away as doctors wantonly hacked and slashed their way through patients, they’ve been reduced by modern medicine. Is it perfect? No, but since natural therapies never stopped infectious disease as the leading cause of death, they aren’t exactly something to be proud of, either.

      The study is obviously misquoted, which happens all the time when journalists try to report on a field they have no expertise in. This 1.5 million are adverse reactions to medications, which can be as mild as a kid developing a nervous tic from Riddalin, not deaths. Only 2.5 million people died in the United States last year, and medication-related didn't even factor into the top 10.

      September 28, 2010 at 10:38 | Report abuse |
    • AnnBChrist

      @Citizen Kane
      I thought it had to do with connsipationn

      September 28, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse |
  2. agree with meryl

    I agree with you, Meryl.Citizen Kane is another mindless sheep ready for whatever the drug dealers have to offer.

    September 27, 2010 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dana

      Not very convincing, Meryl. Posting under another name makes you look even crazier.

      September 27, 2010 at 20:40 | Report abuse |
    • Citizen Kane is an IDIOT

      I agree. Citizen Kane is a major sheep. He leaves the most bone-headed comments on these forums its any wonder he knows how to operate a computer in the first place.

      October 1, 2010 at 19:36 | Report abuse |
  3. Dana

    If Meryl's crazy assertions were even near the mark, we'd all have kicked the bucket by now. What a freakin' wacko.

    September 27, 2010 at 19:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sam McQuiston

    While I wish more people were proactive about their health and listened to their bodies, as a radiologist, it is incomprehensible that this story is true. I know NO physician who would have heard these parents' story and not ordered a CT scan of the child's head. The history of head trauma with a lucid period is so typical of epidural hematoma that it is taught in every medical school, but usually people present with symptoms in 12 hours or so, not 2 days later. Furthermore, anyone with even minimal trauma to the head gets a CT in this CYA world of medicine; many patient's get CT scans of the head by just saying, "I have a headache," because the ordering doctor says, "you never know what could be going on." There is more to this story than what is reported.

    September 27, 2010 at 19:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • A. Nony

      Several years ago, during a conference that I attended, a colleague fell on the stairs of her hotel in Ottawa and banged her head, hard. As a precaution, she went to what sounded like the equivalent of an Urgent Care center, which she reported as dark and grubby. ( I don't think it was a hospital emergency room.) After a wait of over an hour, a doc looked at her eyes and said she was fine. No cautions about possible symptoms that could develop later. As it happened, she was OK, but whenever anyone extols the Canadian health care system, I think of this (admittedly only one first-hand) data point. The US people at the conference were appalled; the Canadians found her experience normal.

      September 28, 2010 at 05:33 | Report abuse |
    • Joan

      I have to agree with this comment. As a practicing board certified emergency medicine physician, I would have immediately ordered a head CT scan when hearing that a child had head trauma + worsening headache.
      Of course I'm glad that the parents were persistent and pushed for the head CT scan, which made the diagnosis. But it portrays the physician who worked with this family as incompetent and dismissive.
      Please let the CNN viewers and readers understand that the "standard of care" for anyone with head trauma + worsening headache = order a head CT scan, and perform multiple neurologic exams on the patient.

      October 2, 2010 at 18:48 | Report abuse |
    • Lia

      she's obviously lying, she has so many stories, it's beginning to sound absolute unreal!

      October 2, 2010 at 23:18 | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      A. Nony, just THIS year, my 6 yr old son fell down a steep hill, hitting his head HARD. He was bleeding and swelling like crazy and acting strange. I rushed him to the ER, where we then sat for over an hour. Then came a "nurse practitioner" who looked in his eyes, said he's fine, and sent me away with a $1,200 bill.
      Canada? Nope. This is the good old USA. Only difference is that here in the US, even though we pay $400 per month for insurance, we also get the $1,200 bill for a 15 minute visit in the actual treatment area of the ER..
      PS, I've lived in Canada, Germany, and the US. The health care in the US is a distant third behind the other two countries. DISTANT THIRD.

      October 6, 2010 at 19:44 | Report abuse |
  5. KC

    Amen! Doctors want to limit malpractice lawsuits. All they have to do to reduce the number of lawsuits is do their jobs correctly - 80% of lawsuits stem from PREVENTABLE error. I've been prescribed things I've already had bad reactions to, and the doctor's response to my stated refusal to fill the prescription is "it'll be fine" ... he'd rather kill me than have to take a minute to think about what else could be prescribed that would have the same effect without jeopardizing my health. Read Dr. Jerome Groopman's "How Doctors Think" for more details.

    September 27, 2010 at 20:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason

      "80% of lawsuits stem from PREVENTABLE error"

      Well, yeah, Captain Obvious. It's difficult to prove liability in cases where the problem was not preventable. In cases where a problem was not preventable, who do you sue, exactly?

      Seriously. That's your argument?

      Now, would you like to actually give some figures for how many lawsuits are *raised*, how many *succeed* and compare those to the actual number of successful doctor/patient interactions that happen every year?

      No, I guess you wouldn't. Because your "argument" would fall into tatters if you did.

      Newsflash: Quack supporter who doesn't understand numbers sounds off on CNN blogs. Film at 11.

      September 28, 2010 at 01:33 | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Jason, outstanding post! I suspect KC is down for the count after that one.

      September 28, 2010 at 09:06 | Report abuse |
    • Lia

      if you think you're so right then stop seeing doctors, just STOP! go to med school, learn on your own and treat yourself. This who trash reporter of CNN is literally TRASH! she's earning money for telling lies. If you're not smart enough to help yourself, do NOT blame it on others!

      this is so sickening!

      October 2, 2010 at 23:20 | Report abuse |
  6. Dana

    For more, read Quackology, but here's what that site has to say to you crazies:

    For example, looking at the first reference given in the link above (Lazarou et al), it is worth noting that the authors point out that the major cause of problems was due to known highly toxic treatments, such as warfarin. These sorts of drugs are given to people who are seriously ill and at risk of dying. If a small percentage experience an adverse drug reaction then that has to be balanced against the overall benefits of lives saved by the treatment. In considering seriously ill patients who would inevitably die without intervention one should be able to take risks with known drugs in order to save a high number of them. Deaths in this case are a special sort of failure – not a case of negligence or malpractice – but a part of the risks of doing real grown-up medicine. Hospitals have to deal with seriously ill people and sometimes have to be quite aggressive in their treatments. The alternative is certain death. Most quacks are spared this confrontation with reality as they treat their headaches and skin complaints.

    September 27, 2010 at 22:49 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Um

      DANA IS A PLANT BY THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY.

      Her comments are all the same. She is a stone cold moron.

      October 1, 2010 at 19:39 | Report abuse |
  7. Dana

    The nuts who claim that doctors are the 3rd leading cause of deaths are simply misusing statistics to support their own interests in "natural" and homeopathic remedies.

    September 27, 2010 at 22:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Grady

      Dana, you numbskull, natural treatments have been around and have worked for millenia. Long before your precious AMA or American arrogant doctors. I hope you get poisoned by your holy medication you feel is infallible.

      October 1, 2010 at 19:43 | Report abuse |
  8. Chaplain Donna

    This is important information to share with the public. Many times patients and family members are afraid to question the doctor about their concerns. I hope more people begin to participate in their healthcare and more doctors begin to listen.

    September 27, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Scott

    "1.5 million Americans die each year due to medication errors, the Institute of Medicine says."

    Rubbish. The report actually estimates that there are 1.5 million Adverse Drug Events – defined as "Any injury due to medication (Bates et al., 1995b). Examples include a wrong dosage leading to injury (e.g., rash, confusion, or loss of function) or an allergic reaction occurring in a patient not known to be allergic to a given medication."

    Not deaths.

    September 28, 2010 at 00:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. liz

    READ THIS NEW RULE COURTESY OF THE NEW HEALTH CARE LAW IF YOU HAVE A FLEXIBLE SPENDING PLAN! Effective January 1, 2011, you will need a doctor's prescription to be reimbursed for Over-the-Counter (OTC) drugs and medicines, such as Claritin, Advil and Robitussin, through your Account. Since the new law requires a prescription for OTC drugs and medicines to be eligible for reimbursement under your Account, you will no longer be able to use your WageWorks® Health Care Card ("Card") to pay for these purchases. Instead, you will be required to submit the receipt showing the prescription number (or if the prescription number is not shown on the receipt, you will need to include your doctor's prescription) through a Pay Me Back claim online at http://www.wageworks.com or by fax or mail.

    September 28, 2010 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. BillRubin

    This articles's statistic is commonly used argument against modern medicine, but there are some important clarifications...

    1) The statistic does not take into account the denominator – it does not consider the number of people treated and saved everyday by modern medicine. It does not consider how many more people would die if they were not treated in the first place. Its like saying motorcycles are safer than cars because there are more car accidents every year than motorcycle accidents, without considering how many more people drive cars than motorcycles.

    2) People live longer in the developed world and death is most often caused by chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer, while in the developing world, people die sooner, where causes like HIV/AIDS, lung infections, and diarrhea are more prevalent. Medical mistakes are not nearly as frequent in the developing world, but that's not because the best doctors are in Africa, its because the longer people live, the more likely the medical intervention with chronic illness, and the odds of a medical mistake while playing chess with a chronic illness are higher.

    3) Generally, most alternative medicine is safe, but its effectiveness does not always stand up to clinical testing beyond a placebo response (there are some exeptions). In other words, it is low risk but with marginal benefit. Conventional medicine tries to maximize benefits but minimize risk. It uses clinical testing to determine if its safe and if its effective.
    For many illnesses, there are simply no alternative medicine treatments, and a more effective but riskier treatment is needed. For example, if you're having a heart-attack/stroke, break your arm, have a brain aneurysm, or rupture your appendix the first place you need to go is a hospital. With an aneurysm, surgery can have complications but can also save you. In comparaison, healing crystals won't hurt you, but it will not keep you alive either. Physicians don't just look at risk, they need to look at effectiveness too.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. AJ

    What the hell is wrong with CNN. They say 1.5 million die each year from medication errors, but the report they cite says 44,000 to 98,000 from medical errors in GENERAL (the report is from way back in 1999 btw). In 2007, per the CDC (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm) a bit less than 2.5 million died in the US in TOTAL. So, medication errors account for more than 60% of mortalities? That isn't true, you can tell because medical errors in general is not even on the leading causes of death list. Please clarify where the 1.5 million number comes from.

    September 28, 2010 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Veggiehead

      If the word "million" was not written out, I would assume that it was a transcription error, and that the number was 150k or 15k. But the million makes no sense. What bothers me even more about the over-broad term "medication error," though (at least in the context used here), is that it implies errors made by prescribers. But those death statistics include people who have stacked prescriptions obtained from different doctors (Anna Nicole Smith, a drug abuser), and people who have erred in taking too much of a properly prescribed drug or drugs (Heath Ledger, reportedly not a drug abuser).

      September 28, 2010 at 13:23 | Report abuse |
  13. OverNOut

    1.5 millions deaths each year due to medication error? That can not be right.

    September 28, 2010 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tim

      Its not.

      If you actually read the report (Report Brief is available here: http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/1999/To-Err-is-Human/To%20Err%20is%20Human%201999%20%20report%20brief.pdf) the number is closer to 100,000. This is still too high, but nowhere near as high as this article states, or as high as certain commenters seem to think. I don't know where they got this 1.5million figure from but it's complete bollocks.

      I wish people would learn to read.

      September 29, 2010 at 00:40 | Report abuse |
  14. Veggiehead

    What this very biased, incomplete, and poorly reported story doesn't mention is that MOST parents of young children brought to the emergency room feel that something is seriously wrong with their children...even when it IS just the flu. The short version of this story is that a father carelessly beaned his own child with a baseball (should have been using a safe/soft ball there, pops). They probably should have taken her in for an exam at urgent care (not emergency) immediately after it happened. But they waited until the child felt ill, and they rushed to emergency, where they undoubtedly presented with vague symptoms. Don't blame the doctor for this. Subdural hematoma can be hard to diagnose, in the early stages. So they "demanded" a scan of her brain? They got one, didn't they? So where is the problem? Did these people sue the physician?

    And by the way, this has nothing to do with people dying from medication errors, CNN.

    September 28, 2010 at 13:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. na

    More quackery from CNN and Elizabeth Cohen!!!

    Ms. Cohen headlines that 1.5 MILLION people die annually from medication errors. REALLY? REALLY? The CDC says that only 2.4 million Americans die annually from all causes. SOOO, more than 2/3 of ALL deaths in the U.S. are from medication errors? REALLY? More than all other causes of death (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, car accidents) COMBINED? REALLY?

    Actually read the report, Ms. Cohen. It says that 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die annually from all medical errors, not just medication errors. That's a far cry from 1.5M. And how many lives do doctors save each year?

    Can we sue you for journalistic malpractice? You expect doctors to be perfect, but then make a glaring error like this one!

    September 28, 2010 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lia

      My friend is a big time medical attorney who thinks it's time we take CNN and Cohen down for false reporting!

      October 2, 2010 at 23:14 | Report abuse |
  16. HPN

    So for all you politically correct people, understand this means that your chances of dying from a medical error are 3.75 times greater than if you smoked. Where are all the TV ads about doctors are hazardous to your health. Taxes on cigarettes account for 50% of the price. So when are we going to apply a 50% tax on doctors and hospitals to discourage the public from using them.

    September 28, 2010 at 14:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dana

      Nobody's holding a gun to your head to force you to use hospitals and doctors. Do the rest of us a big favor and don't go to a doctor or a hospital when you're sick. Your idiocy isn't helpful to the rest of the population anyway.

      September 28, 2010 at 18:58 | Report abuse |
    • Jason

      Strange, because my sources state that just over 400,000 people die each year from smoking related disease, and as "na" notes just above, the estimate for ALL medical errors is 44,000 to 98,000 estimated. The 1.5m figure is all "injuries"

      So a tenth of the chances of dying from smoking then. Or maybe a fifth if you're really unlucky.

      Not 3.75x, then.

      And "all medical errors" is a big category. You'd need to lump together smoking, drug abuse, alcohol abuse and jaywalking before you got some kind of parity. Sheesh.

      As I've said before:

      Newsflash: Quack supporter who doesn't understand numbers sounds off on CNN blogs. Film at 11.

      September 29, 2010 at 02:51 | Report abuse |
  17. Bad Patient

    read Selling Sickness.

    October 2, 2010 at 17:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Eleanor

    As a board certified emergency physician and one who discussed the case the day after it occured with medical professionals involved in the case I think the CNN presentation by Elizabeth Cohen may not be accurate. On film the parents reported that they had to insist on a CT scan of their daughter's head, that the doctor did not want to do it and doubted the scan would be positive. Furter. the doctor reportedly said that the child probably had the flu and could go home. I agree with the previous physicians that a CT of head is standard of care with such a history.I It would have been ordered even with the care physicians take to avoid unnecessary radiation exposure in children. It was the emergency physician who asked the child what grade she was in and who her teacher was. In addition to the history the other reason the doc ordered the CT scan was because the child couldn't tell him the name of her teacher. It is not usual while waiting for test results for doctors to minimize outcome. "I'm sure she'll be fine. Probably the flu, she can probably go home but we'll check to make sure." Were we to say, "I am really worried your child may have an epidural bleed" that opens the door for parents to decompensate, sometimes become hysterical at a time we need a quiet. calm environment for the child. If a test comes back positive then we deliver the solution at the same time as we give up the bad news. Finally, I am very pro patients following their gut. That is a definite yes. In terms of this case being an example of doctor missing the bus, that's a no.

    October 2, 2010 at 23:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Lia

    she is capitalizing on people's fears of being in hospitals, there's already enough patients who wait until the last minute to seek treatment because they are scared of hospitals, this only worsens the situation.

    here's what i gotta say to this sad excuse of a journalist: stop seeing doctors period if you're so great, i hope you live a long and happy life.

    October 2, 2010 at 23:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Leelee

    patients need to advocate for themselves, but she is on something. I think due to one personal agenda she has against the healthcare system, she went nuts, digging up the most ridiculous stories of medical errors she can find, or maybe made up, it's truly scary.

    My friend's mom knew her back in college and said she had a tendency to over exaggerate and over-dramatize and take things she doesn't understand personally. I was seriously not believing this until I read her CNN blog and books, she's like running around stabbing patients who were able to form good relations with their doctors. She's basically saying "if I can't have a good doctor, neither can you !"

    Plus, someone who has this kinda agenda are only gonna get negative reactions from doctors. They work their butta off and they get this woman who treats them like a business transaction. Come on! Her behavior feeds on itself! I hope when she's ill, someone screws up on purpose on her...she might needa worry about it, everywhere at my aunt's hospital hates her guts. The moral is, don't bite the hand that you need later to feed you.

    October 2, 2010 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Flashfreeze

    I agree with people needing to question doctors when they feel something is wrong. If my parents hadn't questioned the ER doctors decision about my red rash being the flu... the flu? Doctor told them to give me asprin and let me ride out the flu. First red flag for them was the recommendation to give me asprin as a child. You never give asprin to a child IF they have the flu!
    They immediately took me to a family doctor recommeneded by work mates. This doctor seen the infection for what it was.... Scarlett Fever. I'm glad my parents acted as an 'empowered patient' for me and the doctor got me on a course of antibiotics.

    October 6, 2010 at 12:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. John Lewis

    The piece on "trust your gut" contained a terrible omission. Nowhere does it state that the parents of the stricken child informed the ER doctor that their daughter had sustained a blow on the head from a baseball two days earlier. One can assume that they did, but if they did not, the doctor could hardly be blamed for his diagnosis.

    December 22, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.