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Interesting Statistic

Discussion in 'Pre-Medical - MD' started by Mortal_Lessons, Mar 28, 2007.

  1. Mortal_Lessons

    Mortal_Lessons H.Perowne
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    For those of you who don't read Harper's Magazine or know about it, you should. Here's a link: www.harpers.org. It's the longest running continuously published monthly magazine in America and it's full of interesting reading material. One of its most notable sections is the Harper's Index, where each month a statistical snapshot of the world's economic, political, and cultural climate is provided.

    I was just leafing through next month's issue of Harper's and came across a relevant medical statistic in the Index:

    "Estinated number of Americans who die each year as a result of doctors' sloppy handwriting: 7000."

    That's absolutely crazy! I know I have bad handwriting and I do get a bit embarassed when confronted about it, but I'd be *horrified* to know that my bad handwriting lead to someone else's death. The medical community either needs to offer refresher courses in handwriting technique :thumbdown: or move to electronic files :thumbup: . Any opinions on this startling statistic?
     
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  3. Generic Member

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    I generally don't believe statistics like that if they don't show their data or methods. Did they? I think it would be hard to quantitate.
     
  4. Mortal_Lessons

    Mortal_Lessons H.Perowne
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    When it comes to trustworthy and professionalism, Harper's upholds the highest standards. You can feel this by simply picking up an issue and looking at the quality of the material within. As for this particular statistic, all they have cited is Institute of Medicine (Washington). While that doesn't tell us too much about the data or methods, the IOM is *very* prestigious and a search of their website would probably yield reliable information as to how they obtained this statistic.
     
  5. Generic Member

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    I'm sure that Harper's is reputable. So is JAMA and the New England Journal of Medicine and flawed studies are published in those journals all the time. Even smart, reputable people make mistake and can be wrong. I think it's important to be a critical reader no matter what I'm reading. Methods and results sections can help me to do this.
     
  6. TheAmazingGOB

    TheAmazingGOB It ain't easy bein' white
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    68.3% of all statistics are made up.
     
  7. LizzyM

    LizzyM the evil queen of numbers
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    Consider that in 2004 there were 2,398,343 deaths in America from a population of 293,027,571.

    So of 293 million people at risk for death from physician handwriting, 7,000 died. An additional 2,391,343 died of other causes.

    Yes, physician handwriting has been known to cause medication errors-- wrong drug, wrong dose, incorrect dosing schedule, wrong route. There is an interesting literature on all this....stay tuned, you are sure to learn more about it during clinical rotations and in residency.
     
  8. sheepunite

    sheepunite Member
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    yeah, i saw that one.
    harper's is my favorite monthly. i'm waiting for them to come out with a lifetime subscription.

    i would, however, caution against drawing firm conclusions from any one line in their fabulous index. it's all about the juxtaposing of random statistics, after all.
     
  9. Mortal_Lessons

    Mortal_Lessons H.Perowne
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    I think what Harper's is trying to do with this statistic is to get people to think. Not about where they got the statistic, but about the implications of the statistic, assuming it came from a reliable source. And the last time I checked, the IOM is one of the most presitigious institutes around. When you get bogged down in doubting something, you often fail to miss the point. Of course, methods and results sections are important, BUT for a scientific/research magazine. When you go to the source of the statistic (which isn't Haper's; it's the IOM) then look for the methods and results. I'm sure there's a whole paper on where they arrived at this number. For now, I'm more interested in the implications of this statistic then in arguing about whether or not the number is right on the mark. Why must we spend time going back and forth about whether or not this statistic is reliable (which anyone can do by browsing the IOM webpage), instead of discussing something substantive like the number of lives lost due to sloppy handwriting?
     
  10. Mortal_Lessons

    Mortal_Lessons H.Perowne
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    Hey, that's great that you read Harper's too. This isn't as awesome as a lifetime subscription, but beginning April 1st, if you pay with a credit card for a Haper's subscription, you can access all of Harper's issues dating back to 1850 for free!

    Yes, the juxtaposition is what makes the Index so beautiful and enjoyable to read!
    Here's a funny juxtaposition from this month's issue:
    "Word count of the combined U.S. federal tax regulation in 1995: 7,652,000"
    "Word count today: 9,097,000"
     
  11. Generic Member

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    I just don't find appeals to authority very convincing. Prestige is dangerous to good science. Surely it has it's place, but only as a well deserved follow-up to good work. Past success shouldn't color our view of work yet to be evaluated. Would you believe a study just because it came out of Harvard or Hopkins? I wouldn't. The same should apply to the IOM. That said, it still behooves a doc to communicate clearly.
     
  12. foofish

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    If it makes you feel any better, I have excessively neat handwriting and still get made fun for it, especially now that I'm going into medicine. :) (But thanks, now I'll retaliate with that stat...)
     
  13. Mortal_Lessons

    Mortal_Lessons H.Perowne
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    I do agree with you, but I would also say that prestige *comes* with good science. If you look at the institutions you mentioned, didn't they get to where they're at because good science took place there? It's not like they've always been prestigious and used that as a guise to do bad research and claim it's good. Mistakes are made at all levels of prestige, but you've only pointed out the most presitigious places because they're the ones who are most trusted. And for a good reason. They did good research, which in turn led to their prestige. Many top institutions attract the best scientists who do the best research because of the institution's prestige. This good research leads to a continued level of prestige for the institution. Why does the public often turn to the best in the field in order to get their medical information? I'm sure it'd be interesting to look at this statistic: How many times is a medical professional from a leading institution put on a news program over medical professionals from other institutions?
     

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