Healthcare News & Insights

Preventable errors kill more patients than common diseases

Medical errors in hospitals are deadly, but the magnitude may be larger than imagined. A new study sheds light on just how many people die due to preventable errors in hospitals each year – and the findings aren’t pretty.

133792324In fact, hospital errors may now be the third leading cause of death in the U.S., just behind heart disease and cancer.

After examining four recent studies that used the Global Trigger Tool, which helps researchers look over medical records for signs of infection, John T. James of the Patient Safety Institute discovered that serious medical errors arose in close to 21% of reported hospitalizations. About 1.4% of those errors lead to deaths, according to an article from ProPublica. The results of Jones’ analysis were published in this month’s issue of the Journal of Patient Safety.

Deaths from hospital errors

Using this data as a baseline for determining how many deaths occurred due to errors in hospitals across the country, Jones concluded that at least 210,000 deaths are caused by preventable hospital errors each year. That’s more than the number of people who die each year from strokes (129,476) and diabetes (69,071) combined, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And this estimate is actually conservative, Jones says, because it doesn’t take into account issues like diagnostic errors and lack of proper treatment that may also contribute to patient deaths. If these numbers were captured, the number of deaths attributed to patient errors rises to over 440,000.

Research from other entities seems to back up this claim, at least in part. For example, in 2010, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) estimated that at least 180,000 deaths occurred as a direct result of bad hospital care with Medicare patients alone.

It’s hard to get exact numbers of just how many patients are affected by medical errors, since it isn’t mandatory to report when they occur in all hospitals. But many prominent patient research organizations are backing James’ research, saying it’s one of the most valid estimates of harm caused to patients because of preventable errors.

Getting it right

Outcry over this study could lead to more scrutiny being placed on preventable errors in hospitals. So it’s important to do all you can to keep your hospital from getting put under the microscope.

A culture of transparency is crucial to promoting a safe environment for patients. If hospital staff members are encouraged to report mistakes without fear of retribution, it’s much easier to take the appropriate actions to correct and prevent them.

In addition, tools such as safety checklists can go a long way in preventing common mistakes involving patient care, as can implementing better protocols during hospital shift changes and with surgical procedures.

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