Medical Errors Still Plague U.S. Hospitals
Report: In-Hospital Medical Errors Responsible for 195,000 Deaths Each Year
WebMD News Archive
July 27, 2004 -- Despite widely publicized reports of medical
errors, a new report shows patient safety still suffers at American
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
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
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.