The Risk Society

A new Institute of Medicine survey estimates that “[a]t least 1.5 million Americans are sickened, injured and killed each year by avoidable errors in prescribing, dispensing and taking medications” each year. I’ve had some personal experience with the matter, as my mother got the wrong dose of Coumadin (a blood thinner) for a week and had to be hospitalized as a result.

Since then, she’s gotten a manual that’s like one pharmacists use, and compares the size and shape of her pills to the dosage recommended by doctors. This wastes a lot of her time, but it appears necessary in a world where harried pharmacists are not merely filling prescriptions but are also doing bureaucratic duty on the front line of Medicare Part D implementation.

My point here is not to kvetch–I have little idea how to reengineer drug delivery systems to resolve these issues, though I’m hoping retailers that do get rewarded commercially. (Sadly, this may not even be an systemic issue.)

I just want to point out that there are subtle ways our quality of life can get degraded in ways a GDP measurement will never catch. The “progress paradox” school tends to think that people unduly complain in the midst of material plenty. But having to spend time rechecking a pharmacist’s work (or couriering medical documents, as several hospitals force families of patients to do, etc.) is lost leisure that our society needs to find better ways of valuing and preserving.

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