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  Medical Errors Still A Leading Cause of Death in the United States



Study finds that medical errors are still high five years after Institute of Medicine's landmark report showing as many as 98,000 deaths are due to preventable errors each year.

In its second annual report on patient safety, HealthGrades asserts that the healthcare industry has stagnated in its efforts to reduce medical errors since the Institute of Medicine (IOM) first reported on error rates in 2000.

In 2004, HealthGrades reported that there were 195,000 deaths involving medical errors each year, twice the number the IOM reported in "To Err is Human." In its updated report for 2005, HealthGrades has found that the statistics are not improving. HealthGrades used Medicare data collected between 2001 and 2003 to identify situations in which patient safety was compromised by preventable incidents in hospitals around the United States. Some of the findings in the report include:

  • 1.18 million patient-safety incidents occurred among Medicare patients in U.S. hospitals between 2001 and 2003, up from 1.14 million in the previous report.
  • The 16 types of patient-safety incidents studied produced $8.73 billion in excess charges to Medicare each year between 2001 and 2003, up from $8.5 billion in the previous report.
  • 1 in 4 patients who experienced a patient-safety incident had a chance of dying as a result of the incident.
  • Hospital-acquired infection rates worsened over the four year period between 2000 and 2003, accounting for nearly 30 percent of excess costs associated with patient-safety incidents - approximately $2.6 billion between 2000 and 2003.

Medical errors are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, but they are not officially recognized by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) in its National Vital Statistics Report. The number of patients who die from patient-safety incidents every six months exceeds the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War. The report cites steps that could be taken to cut patient deaths and safety incidents, including the simple act of doctors washing their hands after they come into contact with patients.

Gap between Best and Worst Hospitals is Widening
The top 10 percent of the best-performing hospitals had half the patient-safety incident occurrence rate of the lowest 10 percent of hospitals. Translated into real numbers, the top 10 percent of hospitals had 267,151 fewer incidents and 48,417 fewer error-related deaths than the worst-performing 10 percent of hospitals. These figures allowed the best hospitals to save $2.3 billion in extra costs between 2001 and 2003.

HealthGrades News Release: Medical-Errors Gap Widens Between Best and Worst Hospitals


Reprinted with the permission of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.  Posted June 2005 to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America website.