In Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America’s Third Largest Cause of Death, and What Can be Done About It, James B. Lieber ’71 recounts enough medical tragedies — a college freshman’s death from a drug interaction, a young girl’s death due to a mismatched blood type — to make the most willing patient worry.
Lieber, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer, spent more than a decade researching medical errors after his mentor, a prominent attorney, died from a prescription overdose following a lung transplant. A victim of misdiagnosis himself — he almost had his toes amputated in a “never event,” a surgery the medical profession admits never should have happened — Lieber wants to give consumers a wake-up call.
“My goal is to bring this atrocious social problem that kills upwards of a quarter of a million people per year to the attention of the public,” Lieber says in an email. “Like Ralph Nader [’55], I think people have a right to be free from physical mayhem caused by businesses, including health care.”
After several high-profile malpractice cases in the 1990s, the public’s attitude toward the medical profession began to change, he says. Disclosure clauses, monitoring initiatives, and other reforms were initiated. But improvements have been implemented “spottily,” Lieber believes, with the revolution in electronic medical records particularly disappointing.
Most electronic data systems are “closed source and cannot talk to each other,” he says. “If you live in New Jersey and have a car accident in New York, the medical providers may not know critical aspects of your history.”
Kirkus Reviews calls Killer Care “a succinct, disturbing report on the prevalence of malpractice in modern medicine” and says its analysis “begs for discussion by industry watchdogs and consumers alike.”
Lieber is the author of Friendly Takeover: How an Employee Buyout Saved a Steel Town, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and Rats in the Grain: The Dirty Tricks and Trials of Archer Daniels Midland.