Thursday, July 12, 2012

An interest in remaining alive

A coda to my visit to Israel was an article from the newspaper Haaretz that I read in the airplane as I flew off.  It was by Aner Shalev and was entitled, "We have an interest in remaining alive.

Here's the lede:

The Carmel fire, the 1997 helicopter disaster, the Second Lebanon War, the Yom Kippur War -- this year we had an even greater disaster, but no commission of inquiry looked into it.  In this year's disaster, we lost more people than in those two wars together.  It's an ongoing battle that claims about 4,000 casualties every year, according to official figures that have probably been toned down. We lose this battle time and again -- but it seems nobody cares.  Israel's hospitals, which are supposed to save us from illness and injury, have turned into our worst killing fields.

Most of the article deals with MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections. But then there is the complaint about a lack of transparency:

On top of this, the Health Ministry has statistics about infections at our hospitals.  The ministry published these figures recently, without mentioning the hospitals' names.  The pressure to publish this vital information was warded off with the strange claim that it wasn't of public interest.

Israel has a marvelous, universal public health system of which it should be justly proud.  But like every other developed country, Israel has a problem with the amount of harm -- mortality and morbidity -- caused by its hospitals.  I don't know if this author is correct that the amount of preventable harm is under-reported, but I do know something we have learned throughout the world:  If there is not a clear presentation of the degree of harm that exists in each hospital, there will not be and cannot be an effective effort to reduce it.

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