Medical Mistakes More Likely With Chronically Ill Children: Study

Children who suffer from chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, cancer or epilepsy, may face a greater risk of medical malpractice or medical mistakes while under a physician’s care as an inpatient.

Approximately 44 percent of all pediatric inpatients suffer from chronic illnesses, and according to a new study published online this week by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, those patients are more likely to experience a medical error during the course of their care than pediatric patients without a chronic condition.

The study analyzed data from 38 U.S. states in the 2006 Kids’ Inpatient Database (KID) to determine medical error rates per 100 hospital discharges and per 1,000 inpatient days. Not only was the medical error rate higher per 100 hospital discharges in children with chronic illnesses, but it was also higher per 1,000 inpatient days in children with chronic conditions.

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Researchers used the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification in order to define and determine what to consider a medical error for the studies purpose.

The findings suggested that among hospitalized children without a chronic condition, 1.3 percent experienced a medical error. However, hospitalized children who suffered from a chronic condition were 5 percent more likely to be affected by a medical error.

Medical errors that were used in the data included abnormal complications to a specific medical procedure, adverse reactions to medications, infections and even bedsores. It is unclear how severe the medical mistakes were or if they eventually caused significant or long lasting harm to the children.

The study serves as a warning for health care providers, suggesting that medical errors and complications are more likely in children who already suffer from at least one chronic condition. The percentage of errors or complications increases with the number of concurrent chronic illnesses a child suffers from. The more chronic conditions a child has, the more likely it will be for the child to suffer a medical error after hospitalization.

The increase in probability of a medical error in chronically ill children may be a result of a longer hospitalization period due to such conditions or that their illness may be complicated by such chronic conditions, researchers speculate.

According to a November 1999 report (PDF) by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) nearly 98,000 people die in hospitals each year as the result of a medical error that could have been prevented. These errors result in a loss of anywhere between $17 billion and $29 billion per year.

Overall, the number of chronic conditions a child suffered from was directly related to whether the patient suffered from a medical error during hospitalization.

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