News Comment: Wealth and Fame No Protection from Medical Error, says PULSE of NY

Joan Rivers' recent death due to preventable medical error highlights the need for greater patient safety. PULSE of NY offers classes and training that equip patients and families to protect themselves when using the health system.

Comedian Joan Rivers died on September 4, 2014, following complications during what should have been a minor surgical procedure.

According to news reports, Rivers’ death was caused by an unplanned biopsy. She stopped breathing and suffered cardiac arrest after a sudden decision to remove a polyp-like growth on her vocal cords, the reports read.

"If we can flood the country with patient advocates, it will be easier to ask the harder questions because we will all be doing it."

Ilene Corina, President, PULSE of NY

Ilene Corina, Long Island Patient Safety Consultant and President and Founder of PULSE of NY, an independent, community-based patient safety organization, suggests that this can and should be seen as an opportunity to talk about patients’ safety. “If a woman who has that much fame and money can die from a preventable medical error, we know it’s happening to others,” Corina suggests.

A 2013 report* states that as many as 440,000 people die in the US every year from preventable medical errors. The medical community knows this statistic. To help reduce this toll, PULSE of NY teaches patient safety and advocacy at Long Island’s only Patient Advocacy Training Class. Family Centered Patient Advocacy focuses on the family’s role in patient safety, helping to avoid some of the deaths and even more injuries each year. PULSE also works with vulnerable populations via a Patient Safety Advisory Council.

By asking the right questions, patients and their families can become “smarter customers” while using the healthcare system either for surgery, due to recent diagnosis of a disease, or as part of the aging process.

Studies show that those patients who have family support get better outcomes, but what should the family know or do? PULSE of NY focuses on the family’s role with specific tools including assertive but respectful communication, and encourages those who take the program to return to future classes (space allowing) for refreshers at no charge. Classes are small and the cost is low.

Corina lost her son in 1990 after healthcare workers didn’t take her cries for help seriously when the boy continued bleeding after a tonsillectomy. “Patients need to speak up and be part of the team,” she says. “We can help them do that. If we can flood the country with patient advocates, it will be easier to ask the harder questions because we will all be doing it.”

PULSE of NY’s next class will be held October 27 in Freeport, Long Island. Visit Registration deadline is October 15.