"Staggering magnitude" of medical errors

The fifth annual "Patient Safety in American Hospitals" study has concluded medical errors resulted in more than 238,000 potentially preventable deaths in the United States from 2004 through 2006, and that the cost to Medicare alone from such errors approached $9 billion. The study was published by Healthgrades, a health care ratings agency, and the Washington Post article on the study can be found here. This data is consistent with data published previously. As a result of the costs associated with medical errors, Medicare and Medicaid are no longer paying hospitals for medical expenses that are incurred as a result of such errors.

An article published in the October 8, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) had previously concluded that medical complications often caused by medical mistakes result in approximately 32,000 in-hospital deaths and more than $9 billion in added costs every year.

Researchers from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research analyzed data on 18 complications that often occur because of medical errors. Some of these common complications include leaving instruments inside patients, post-surgical infections and wound openings. Post-surgical infections proved to be the number one complication, and researchers concluded that such simple steps as requiring physicians and nurses to wash their hands would reduce the incidence.

This study comes on the heels of a 1999 Institute of Medicine report which estimated that as many as 98,000 deaths occur in the United States every year due to medical negligence.

In an editorial accompanying the JAMA article, Dr. Saul Weingart and Dr. Lisa Iezzoni of Harvard's Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital wrote that the "staggering magnitude" of the problem of medical mistakes is "clearly sobering."