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Hospital Mistakes Impact One Out of Three Patients in U.S.: Study

According to new research, medical mistakes may be 10 times more common than previously believed, which could mean that one out of every three hospital patients have been the victim of an error. 

Studies in the April issue of the medical journal Health Affairs delineate the potential frequency of mistakes by health care providers and what those mistakes could cost taxpayers. One study, conducted by researchers from the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, found that adverse events occurred in one-third of all U.S. hospital admissions. Another study, led by researchers from Milliman’s Denver Health, determined that those medical errors cost the U.S. $17.1 billion annually.

Researchers conclude from their findings that medical errors are 10 times more common than previously believed because earlier methods of determining those errors relied heavily on voluntary reporting and missed 90% of all adverse events caused by a preventable mistake.

Those mistakes are driving up the cost of health care nationwide, some researchers said. The findings come less than a month after a study by Public Citizen, which found that efforts to pin rising health care costs on “defensive medicine” and medical malpractice lawsuits were misguided and not borne out by the actual numbers.

The studies were part of a special Health Affairs issue on patient safety.

Researchers found that the most common, preventable errors involved hospital bedsores. The second most common error was postoperative hospital-acquired infections.

Pressure ulcers or 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.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) calculated that medical malpractice and mistakes caused 98,000 deaths per year and 1 million injuries.

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