Bedsores, Hospital Infections and Medical Errors Cost U.S. $19.5B: Report

Bedsores, hospital infections and other medical mistakes cost the U.S. economy $19.5 billion in 2008, according to a new report. 

The Society of Actuaries’ Health Section has released a report titled “The Economic Measurement of Medical Errors” (pdf), which calculated the costs of healthcare mistakes that could, for the most part, have been prevented. Researchers found that the medical mistakes killed more than 2,500 people that year, and cost employers more than 10 million work days of lost productivity.

The largest cost came from hospital bedsores, or pressure ulcers. Bedsores accounted for $3.9 billion in medical costs. Post-operative hospital infections were next, costing the economy $3.7 billion. Medical device complications and failed spinal injuries were virtually tied for the third most expensive class of medical mistakes at $1.1 billion each.

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The consulting firm Milliman, Inc. used medical claim data from 2008 to produce the report for the Society of Actuaries. Its analysts found that there were 6.3 million measurable medical injuries that occurred in the U.S. in 2008. Of that number, 1.5 million were medical errors, defined as injuries that occurred due to a lapse in medical care.

Researchers looked at the increased medical costs due to the mistake, the loss of productivity, and the economic impact of fatalities and determined that the total cost per medical error averages out to about $13,000, for $19.5 billion in total cost to the economy in 2008. The researchers said in the report that they were most likely underestimating the productivity and mortality costs, which make up about 20% of the bottom line.

Bedsores occur as a result of a lack of blood flow to an area of the skin caused by prolonged pressure on one area of the body. They most often develop in places with prominent bones beneath thin layers of skin, such as the heels, elbows and tailbone. The open sores often afflict nursing home residents and hospital patients with limited mobility who have trouble, or are unable, to move independently.

Most medical organizations consider bed sores to be a preventable condition that are easily treated if detected early through proper diligence on the part of medical staff and care providers. Failure to prevent, identify, or properly treat bedsores can result in life-threatening infections that enter the bloodstream, known as sepsis.

There are more than 2 million hospital infections acquired each year, resulting in about 90,000 deaths annually, according to earlier data from the CDC. Another 1.5 million long term care and nursing home infections occur every year.

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of hospital infection lawsuits filed throughout the United States, as experts believe that most of these potentially life-threatening infections in hospitals can be prevented if steps are taken by the facility and staff.

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