Hospital Errors Lead to 400K Deaths Per Year: Study

As many as 400,000 Americans die every year because of hospital mistakes that could have been prevented, according to the findings of a new study.  

Dr. John T. James of Patient Safety America was the lead author on a study meant to update the estimated rates of preventable patient harm in the United States.

Previous reports placed the death toll from preventable hospital errors at around 98,000, but Dr. James found that data is outdated and set out to update those numbers, with the findings published this month in the Journal of Patient Safety.

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The research looked at evidence in medical records and physician reports of hospital errors that led to patient harm, which were gathered in four different studies from 2008 through 2011. Researchers found that the actual number of patients who die every year from preventable adverse events (PAEs) is about 400,000, and estimates suggest that incidents of serious, but not lethal, preventable harm could be 10 to 20 times that, meaning millions of Americans each year are seriously hurt because of a hospital staff’s mistake.

Dr. James estimates that preventable hospital error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer. The report suggests that the previous numbers may have been so low because a much higher bar was set to determine which deaths were due to preventable harm.

“It is also possible that the frequency of preventable and lethal patient harms has increased from 1984 to 2002–2008 because of the increased complexity of medical practice and technology, the increased incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, overuse/misuse of medications, an aging population, and the movement of the medical industry toward higher productivity and expensive technology, which encourages rapid patient flow and overuse of risky, invasive, revenue-generating procedures,” Dr. James noted in the study.

Dr. James indicates that his own son died at the age of 19 due to careless treatment by cardiologists in a Texas hospital in 2002.

Hospital Infections Cost U.S. in Blood and Treasure

The study comes just weeks after Harvard researchers reported in JAMA Internal Medicine that hospital-acquired infections, a leading type of PAE, cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $10 billion every year.

In recent years, an increasing number of medical malpractice lawsuits over hospital infections are being filed, as many experts believe that these infections can be prevented with the exercise of reasonable care.

According to prior research, preventable hospital infections cost the U.S. Economy nearly $19.5 billion in 2008 and claimed more than 2,500 lives that year.

Implementation of simple procedures, such as more frequent hand washing for healthcare professionals, timely removal of catheters deterring prolonged use and thorough instrument and patient room cleaning are widely recognized steps that can prevent many of these hospital infection problems.


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