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Medical Errors Still Plague U.S. Hospitals

Report: In-Hospital Medical Errors Responsible for 195,000 Deaths Each Year
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WebMD Health News

July 27, 2004 -- Despite widely publicized reports of medical errors, a new report shows patient safety still suffers at American hospitals.

Nearly 195,000 people in the U.S. died each year as a result of potentially avoidable medical errors in 2000, 2001, and 2002, according to a new study of 37 million patient records released today.

"The equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people are dying each year due to likely preventable, in-hospital medical errors, making this one of the leading killers in the U.S.," says Samantha Collier, MD, in a news release. Collier is vice president of medical affairs at Health Grades Inc., which conducted the study.

"If the Center for Disease Control's annual list of leading causes of death included medical errors, it would show up as number six, ahead of diabetes, pneumonia, Alzheimer's disease and renal disease," says Collier. "Hospitals need to act on this, and consumers need to arm themselves with enough information to make quality-oriented health care choices when selecting a hospital."

Researchers say it's the first study to look at the potentially avoidable deaths and excess costs associated with medical errors across U.S. hospitals among those most at risk: Medicare patients, which represent about 45% of all short-term hospital admissions.

Extrapolating their findings to the nation as a whole (and excluding deaths and incidences during labor and delivery), researchers estimate that more than 575,000 preventable deaths occurred as a result of the 2.5 million patient safety incidents that occurred at U.S. hospitals from 2000 to 2002. These medical errors also resulted in an additional $19 billion in health-care costs.

The report shows that rates of medical errors vary only a small amount across different hospitals and regions. However, hospitals in the Central and Western regions of the U.S. performed better than the national average and better than those in the Northeast and Sunbelt. Teaching hospitals and larger hospitals with more than 200 beds fared slightly worse than non-teaching hospitals for most types of medical errors.

Measuring Medical Errors

Researchers say the results of this report suggest there is little evidence that patient safety has improved since the Institute of Medicine released its landmark report on medical errors in 1999.

The IOM's report found that nearly 100,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors and defined patient safety as "freedom from accidental injury due to medical care or medical errors."

Following the release of the IOM report, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) developed a set of patient safety indicators designed to screen hospital administrative data for areas of concern.

These indicators include conditions caused by medical errors or improper care, such as bed sores, leaving a foreign object in the body during procedures, infection and other complications following surgery, and failure to diagnose and treat a patient in time.

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