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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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Measuring Medical Errors continued...

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.

Medical Errors Hamper Hospitals

In the study, researchers looked at rates of 16 common patient safety incidents among Medicare patients treated in every hospital in the U.S. from 2000 to 2002 and assessed the impact of these events on death and medical costs.

It found more than a million patient safety incidents caused by medical errors occurred from 2000 through 2002 among the 37 million Medicare hospitalizations studied, which resulted in more than $8.5 billion in additional medical costs over three years.

Of the nearly 324,000 deaths that occurred among Medicare patients who experienced a patient safety incident, researchers say more than 80% of these deaths were preventable and attributable to the patient safety incident.

Three types of medical errors accounted for almost 60% of patient safety incidents:

  • Failure to diagnose and treat in time: 155 incidents per 1,000 at-risk hospitalizations
  • Bed sores (skin and deeper tissue ulcers that form as a result of constant pressure on a particular site of the body): 30 cases per 1,000 at-risk hospitalizations
  • Infection following surgery: 13 incidents per 1,000 at-risk hospitalizations

Failure to diagnose and treat in time and unexpected death in a low-risk patient accounted for nearly 75% of all deaths attributable to patient safety incidents.

As shown by previous studies, researchers found that Medicare patients had a higher rate of patient safety incidents than other patient groups.

The study also showed that medical errors were more common among patients who had been admitted to a hospital for a medical condition rather than a surgical reason. Among those who suffered from medical errors, heart failure and pneumonia were the two top reasons for admission.

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