Frequency Of Medical Error
Medical errors have become one of the top three leading causes of death in the U.S., killing more adults than car accidents and diabetes. Only cancer and heart disease claim more lives.
The Journal of Patient Safety reports as many as 440,000 people die annually as a result of preventable medical errors as of 2013– which is more than four times what it was believed to be the last time the issue was studied by the Institute of Medicine in 1999.
What that figure means is that negligent hospitals and health care workers are causing deaths of the equivalent of the entire population of Miami, Florida or Atlanta, Georgia every single year. The number of those who are harmed but survive is even higher.
At The Attorney Injury Group, our Boston medical malpractice lawyers recognize these are not individuals who are dying due to illnesses or injuries that caused them to seek care in the first place. Rather, they are dying from preventable errors and misjudgments by doctors and other health care professionals.
- Medication Errors
- Surgical Objects Left Behind
- Hospital-Acquired Infections
- Missed Diagnosis
- Wrong Diagnosis
- Botched Medical Procedures
- Birth Injuries
- Surgical Error
- Failure to Treat
What’s worse is the estimates we now have are likely conservative, and not only that, hospitals may perversely be rewarded for bad practices.
A 2013 study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed hospitals receive, on average $39,000 more every time a patient suffered a surgical site infection. That’s because the patient inevitably requires additional surgery and treatment. The hospital may in the end lose all or part of that profit, but only if they are held accountable in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Examining the Data
In looking at the total number of medical errors resulting in poor outcomes, the fact is, no one knows for sure. It’s almost impossible to count exactly how many patients suffer preventable harm.
However, what we’re left with are approximations.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report that at the time was groundbreaking. The report, “To Err is Human,” revealed an estimated around 98,000 people die annually due to medical errors. The report further set a minimum goal of a 50 percent reduction over the course of five years.
Initially, that figure was disputed, but was later largely accepted by those within the medical community.
Then in 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services released its own study, indicating that just among Medicare patients, medical mistakes and poor care contributed to 180,000 deaths each year. Researchers selected a nationally representative random sample of 780 Medicare patients discharged during October 2008. A group of physician researchers analyzed:
- Whether an adverse event occurred;
- Whether the adverse event was on the list of Serious Reportable Events or recognized hospital-acquired conditions;
- The level of harm to patient;
- Whether event was preventable.
What they discovered was an estimated 13.5 percent of hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries experienced at least one adverse event during hospital stays. That’s about 1 in 7.
A survey conducted in 2012 by Wolters Klewer Health Quarterly indicated one-third of respondents reported they or a family member or friend had experienced some type of medical error in their lives. Those errors ranged from receiving the wrong medication, receiving poor treatment or being given an improper drug dosage. Further, the poll indicated 1 in 5 respondents were misdiagnosed by a health care provider. A total of 73 percent indicated they were concerned about medical errors.
It seems those fears are well-founded.
In 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety released its study revealing an estimated 440,000 people die every year as a result of preventable medical errors. Researchers called the incidence of patient harm in hospitals “epidemic,” and urged health care providers to take it much more seriously if there was any hope of curtailing it.
Preventing Medical Errors
Prevention of medical errors requires a multi-pronged approached.
Of course, it starts with doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that handoff miscommunications were a primary source of error. That is, when patients are “handed off” to a new set of staffers at shift change.
Researchers have discovered that standardizing the process, especially with the help of computer technology, can cut down on these types of errors. That’s because when hospital residents, doctors and staffers are tired, stressed and busy, they run the risk of leaving out important elements during a handoff. When there is a standard, computerized process, errors become far less likely.
There are also steps patients can take, according to findings from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. These include:
- Make sure your doctor is aware of all medications you’re taking.
- Make sure you can read the prescription your doctor has written.
- Ask for information about your medicine in terms you understand.
- Ask all health care workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands.
- If you are having surgery, make sure you, your doctor and your surgeon all agree on exactly what is being done.
- Don’t be afraid to say something if you have a question or concern.
- Make sure doctors have all appointments and health information.
- Have a family member or friend attend appointments with you.
- Don’t assume following a test that “no news is good news.” Follow up.
If you are concerned you may have been affected by a preventable medical error, our experienced medical malpractice lawyers in Boston are here to answer questions regarding your legal options.