Medical Errors Still Plague U.S. Hospitals
Report: In-Hospital Medical Errors Responsible for 195,000 Deaths Each Year
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
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
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
- 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
- Infection following surgery: 13 incidents per 1,000 at-risk
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
As shown by previous studies, researchers found that Medicare
patients had a higher rate of patient safety incidents than other patient
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.
Recommendations for Reducing Medical Errors
Researchers say the number of medical errors found by this
study may represent only the tip of the iceberg. They say the volume of medical
errors found in this report is lower than those reported by others, which they
say is most likely because they analyzed only selected types of incidents that
occurred during hospitalization of Medicare patients.
Researchers recommend that until effective strategies are
developed to reduce medical errors overall, focused improvement efforts in four
key areas could yield substantial benefits.
"If we could focus our efforts on just four key areas --
failure to rescue, bed sores, postoperative [infection] and postoperative
pulmonary embolism [a blood clot in the lung] -- and reduce those incidents by
just 20%, we could prevent save 39,000 people from dying every year," says
In addition to releasing its findings on patient safety, Health
Grades also released its first annual Distinguished Hospital Award for
Patient Safety. The awards were given to 88 hospitals in 23 states for
having the nation's lowest rates of medical errors and patient safety
incidents. For a list of winners, see www.healthgrades.com.