Intravenous bags hang above young cancer patients at Rady's Children Hospital in San Diego, California, Sept. 4, 2019.
Intravenous bags hang above young cancer patients at Rady's Children Hospital in San Diego, California, Sept. 4, 2019.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND - The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to end bad health care practices responsible for killing millions of patients around the world every year.  WHO issued a report in advance of the first World Patient Safety Day on September 17.

People who fall ill go to their doctor or sign themselves into a hospital in the expectation of receiving treatment that will cure them. Unfortunately, in many cases the treatment they receive will kill them

The World Health Organization reports one in 10 patients is harmed in high-income countries. It says 134 million patients in low-and-middle-income countries are harmed because of unsafe care leading to 2.6 million deaths annually. WHO notes most of these deaths are avoidable.

Neelam Dhingra-Kuram is WHO coordinator of Patient Safety and Risk Management. She said harm occurs mainly because of wrong diagnosis, wrong prescriptions, the improper use of medication, incorrect surgical procedures and health care associated infections.

"But the major reason for this harm is that in the health care facilities, in the system there is lack of patient safety culture. And, that means that the leadership is not strong enough…So, lack of open communication, lack of systems to learn from mistakes and errors. So, already suppose errors are happening and harm is taking place. If you do not learn from it, it is really a lost opportunity," she said.

Dhingra-Kuram said systems must be created where health care workers are encouraged to report mistakes and are not fearful of being blamed for reporting errors.

Besides the avoidable and tragic loss of life, WHO reports patient harm leads to economic losses of trillions of dollars globally each year. It says medication errors alone cost an estimated $42 billion annually.

On the other hand, WHO says a study in the United States finds safety improvement in patient care has resulted in estimated savings of $28 billion in Medicare hospitals between 2010 and 2015.