Military hospitals present high risk for surgical errors

In addition to the well-publicized problems of the V.A. hospitals, there is a lesser-known problem with the performance of about 40 military hospitals throughout the country, including in Maryland. These establishments are considerably smaller than the average civilian hospital. One problem is that they cannot keep up the necessary services and resources with such a low patient volume. The situation is highlighted by numerous examples of surgical errors that rise to the level of malpractice.

The New York Times has published an investigative report documenting numerous horror stories of patients suffering permanent injuries from careless treatment and surgical errors at these hospitals. One woman tried to get a standard hiatal hernia operation, but ended up with a dozen operations, resulting in the loss of her stomach, and damage inflicted throughout her intestines and esophagus. She has lost all aspects of a normal life, according to the Times report.

Another woman had surgery to reduce the size of her stomach, which was intended to alleviate future medical risks. But the surgery turned nightmarish, and she had to return for numerous procedures. The contents of her stomach were seeping into her abdomen. After she forced the military to transfer her to a civilian hospital, her problems were brought under control, according to the report.

Regarding maternity care for military women or the spouses of military members, the Times report says that women giving birth are far more at risk than in civilian hospitals. They are more likely to sustain injuries to themselves or their babies than at the civilian institutions. In fact, the government last year reportedly paid 21 military patients over $500,000 each to settle their medical malpractice claims.

Many of these involved surgical errors. The Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland is one of the largest and most sophisticated of the institutions, but even it rates poorly in comparison to civilian hospitals. The government is looking into downsizing and other solutions. However, according to one patient-safety expert at the Harvard School of Public Health, these establishments "should be outlawed."

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