Once again, UC Davis medical students will conduct another “die-in” to protest the justified homicide of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police Department officers last March. This is the not the first-time medical students have protested a police shooting. They conducted a similar “die-in” to protest the justified homicide of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darrin Wilson and perpetuated the “Hands up, don’t shoot” false narrative. They are wrong about Ferguson and they are wrong about Stephon Clark.
The events of Ferguson spawned the Black Lives Matter movement whose stated goal is to reduce deaths of black individuals by police officers. This is a worthwhile and important endeavor. However, I think their single emphasis on police involved deaths is misguided and doesn’t address a larger issue involving the African American community. Leadership of the Black Lives Matter movement should focus on a proven societal issue killing hundreds of black people every week. This issue is “medical errors.”
In a landmark 2016 study by John Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Dr. Martin Makary showed medical errors cause approximately 250,000 deaths annually in the United States. Simple and correctable errors like dispensing correct prescriptions to patients, addressing inadequate patient-care communication between departments and shifts, and yes, even bad doctors causing the early demise of people seeking help from trained professionals.
Simple math plays out this way; 250,000 deaths annually means 684 people are dying EACH DAY because of medical errors. That’s 116 black people dying each day!
The African American population in the US is approximately 17%. If African American patients are dying because of medical errors consistent with their US population percentage, that total figure is 42,500 annually!
Where is the outrage? Where is former President Obama telling the medical profession they are acting “stupidly”? Any mention of this atrocity during the Women’s March? How many hospitals are under federal consent decree by the Department of Justice? Is there a President’s Task on Medical Errors Reduction in the 21stCentury? Where is the non-stop national media coverage of grieving family members leaving the hospital after a routine surgery sends a loved one to the morgue? Where is the outrage and calls for doctors to wear body warn cameras? Where are the chants of “no justice, no peace”? Who’s taking a knee for them? Does a doctor serve six months in jail when they amputate the wrong limb or diagnose the wrong disease?
Medical errors, if actually listed in the annual death count, would be third in line, right behind cancer. Third! More than gun deaths and DUI deaths combined.
The Washington Post reported that 987 people were shot and killed by police in 2017. Any professional law enforcement officer would like to see that number decrease dramatically. Of those killed by officers, 459 were white and 223 were black. 578 persons were armed with a gun when they were killed by police. Unarmed individuals killed by police were 69.
“Medical errors” will kill more black people in four days than law enforcement professionals kill in one year.
Despite the public figures, there is little to no media or public outcry towards death by “medical errors.” There are a few loosely organized groups trying to address this social atrocity; it’s a dirty little secret in the profession but there are few calls for reform. Where are the calls for civilian oversight committees filled with people who never went to medical school but watched Grey’s Anatomy on TV so they are now medical procedure experts? Where are the civil rights leaders marching to hospitals demanding doctors be prosecuted and imprisoned without due process? Remember Baltimore?
Doctors swear an oath to “do no harm” yet doctors kill more people annually, including an alarming number of black patients, than all law enforcement professionals combined.
I have several family members who were or are doctors, nurses and paramedics. They are wonderful health care practitioners of their trade who do their best. They work with incredible and dedicated people. They do the best they can with what has been presented to them, but they are not miracle workers.
They work in stressful situations, like law enforcement officers, with heavy caseloads. Split-second decisions must be made to save the life of a patient. Like police officers, medical professionals don’t get to “choose” their patients who come into the emergency room. Patients who’ve neglected their health for years now want to be healed in one visit. Patients in their gowns can be seen smoking cigarettes outside of the hospital while hooked up to IV’s.
I bring up the problem of medical error deaths not to detract from the ongoing conversation about police officer shootings; but to shine the light on a much bigger problem impacting our nation. As a law enforcement veteran, I am dedicated to improving my profession, increasing transparency and increasing trust with those whom I provide service.
If you are a medical student protesting today, you might want to look your Chief Medical Resident in the eye and have a crucial conversation to stop the killing of unarmed patients.