In 2016, the British Medical Journal published a study by Martin Makary and Michael Daniel from John Hopkins, which claims that medical errors may be responsible for more than 250,000 deaths per year in the United States. They suggest that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US. Although criticized for its methodology and possible overestimates, the study highlights the serious consequences of medical errors.
Medical error is defined as a failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim and can result in severe consequences for patients’ health. For example, if the surgical team fails to maintain a sterile environment, the patient may develop a severe infection, which could potentially lead to deaths. Despite much debate over the accuracy of the death estimates, little research has been conducted on the long-term economic effects of patients who experienced adverse health shocks. How much would an unexpected medical accident or adverse event harm a healthy Canadian’s career? Will they ever fully recover from an unfortunate adverse health event?
Canada has universal healthcare that covers medical essentials such as surgery and emergency medical treatment. However, Canadians with health insurance have less coverage for the labor market consequences of hospitalization until they become eligible for Canada Pension Plan. Although the Government of Canada has announced the permanent extension of Employment Insurance sickness benefits from 15 weeks to 26 weeks beginning on December 18, 2022, these benefits are designed as a short-term income replacement measure until people can return to work.
Existing social programs may not provide adequate coverage for the potential loss of earnings, leaving individuals who experienced unfortunate health events vulnerable to significant financial hardship and threatening their overall welfare. Studies show that non-fatal heart attacks and strokes can cause up to 20% uninsured decline in earnings. Therefore, more work is needed to ensure that Canadians are adequately protected from the long-term economic consequences of adverse health shocks.
To address this issue, my PhD study at Dalhousie University focusses on understanding the substantial and persistent declines in earnings caused by unexpected medical errors and complications during surgery. We will estimate the financial impact of experiencing sharp adverse health events on working-age adults in Canada. The study sheds light on the need for more comprehensive insurance coverage to protect individuals from the economic consequences of severe health shocks.
In this blog, I look forward to sharing more results from our research on the economic consequences of medical errors. As Sophocles once said, “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil.” By understanding the economic consequences of medical errors, we can work towards improving the social programs and reducing negative impact on the lives of Canadians.
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash