Someone asked me about the connection between healthcare and serial killers. Well, if bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, healthcare serial killers kill patients because that’s where the victims are. There are no locks on hospital doors. Anyone can enter at any time. Once inside the room, there’s an excellent chance a patient won’t ask too many questions. particularly if the person who enters is confident and dressed in scrubs or a white coat. (Watch TV, people. Scenario after scenario shows the bad guy/gal throws on a lab jacket and does whatever they want).
A patient who is sedated by medications can’t question what is done to them. A patient constrained by intravenous lines, bed alarms, chest tubes, etc, can’t get away even if they suspect something is wrong. Hospitalized patients and their families quickly become used to a constant stream of people cycling through the room, playing with equipment, taking blood, giving medications. Be as suspicious at a hospital as you are at a hotel when an unknown person comes to your door. Ask questions, verify the answers.
Perhaps the one thing that most elevates inpatients to victim status is the innate desire to be a good patient. Good patients are docile, take direction, and don’t ask too many questions. For many people, there is the fear that questioning the doctors or nurses will result in substandard care. I can’t cite statistics, but I’ll say in many cases I’ve personally witnessed of people getting the wrong interventions, (medication, procedure, vaccination) when the patient questioned whether it was appropriate, they were told the doctor ordered it. At those magic words, the questions and hesitation stop. Be a bad patient. Trust your healthcare providers, but verify what they tell you. Ronald Reagan had Alzheimer’s, yet he still knew the value of verification.
Still, most people would rather be subjected to an invasive procedure than upset the doctor. The healthcare system has helped to create a population of victims, and they know it. Make sure you aren’t one.
An article in the Journal of Forsensic Science (2006 Nov;51(6):1362-71) provides some relevant facts on the particulars of healthcare serial killers.
Their method: “Injection was the main method used by healthcare killers followed by suffocation, poisoning, and tampering with equipment.”
You’re in the hospital, someone approaches you with a needle. If you’re hooked up to an intravenous line or have a capped intravenous access, it’s not shocking to have someone come to your bedside and inject medication into the line or the intravenous bag. If a patient asks what’s going on or what’s going in, standard healthcare response is it’s something the doctor ordered. Key point – No one wants to argue with the doctor. Same if someone walks into your room with a syringe and tells you they’re there to administer a medication. Most patients won’t argue if the request to insert a needle is prefaced by saying it’s something the doctor ordered. I’ve been in healthcare long enough to know this is a dangerous practice even for a nurse who isn’t a serial killer. Patients should be identified, educated about the medication, and verify it’s something that’s been discussed with them by the ordering provider. I’ve heard and seen too many patients who have accepted medications meant for others because those magic words, “the doctor ordered it”, seems to override the common sense that would kick in under most situations. Doctors write down their orders. Why shouldn’t the nurse let you see it?
Healthcare serial killers breakdown by role: “Nursing personnel comprised 86% of the healthcare providers prosecuted; physicians 12%, and 2% were allied health professionals.”
Of course nursing personnel are the majority of healthcare serial killers. They’re the ones spending the majority of time with the patients. They’re the ones who go in and out of rooms without anyone asking questions. They’re the ones who have access to the drugs and equipment to kill people. Why is the percentage of doctor healthcare serial killers so small compared to nurses? Doctors have less alone time with hospitalized patients and spend less hours with them. If your doctor showed up at your hospital bed at 3 a.m. with a syringe, you’d ask questions, wouldn’t you? Most of the time, if a doctor shows up on a hospital floor, the nurses are right beside him trying to get orders clarified and their concerns addressed. Doctors aren’t rock stars, but they get plenty of attention. That doesn’t make them right.
“The number of patient deaths that resulted in a murder conviction is 317 and the number of suspicious patient deaths attributed to the 54 convicted caregivers is 2113.”
Wow, 2113 suspicious deaths, but only 317 murder convictions. Why? Because people die in the hospital. They die for lots of reasons. It takes a lot for an institution to become suspicious that someone’s having too many deaths, and if the heat is on, the healthcare provider can easily go to another facility and start over. That’s the sad truth. Want a quick and easy way of finding out the caliber of your healthcare provider? Check out how many different facilities they’ve worked in. The more facilities a provider has worked at should mean the more the little hairs on the back of your neck should stand up. Trust me, hospitals don’t deal with problems, they move them along.
How do you protect yourself? Ask questions. Pay attention. Question what’s going on. Most patients are probably more suspicious of their local auto mechanic than they are of their healthcare provider. Guess what? Your auto mechanic might sell you something you don’t need, but your healthcare provider can kill you.
Still not convinced? Check out truTV’s series on healthcare serial killers, conveniently broken down into the doctors, the male nurses and the female nurses. The Angels of Death are out there. Protect yourself.