More than one out of every 10 patients are harmed by a medical mistake, and about half of those incidents are preventable, according to the findings of new research.
In a study published this week in The BMJ, U.K. researchers indicate that these preventable injuries from medical mistakes impact about 5% of patients, calling for new strategies to avoid patient harm.
Researchers performed a meta-analysis of 70 different studies, involving 337,025 patients who suffered an injury unrelated to their previous medical conditions in a healthcare setting from January 2000 to January 2019. The study then identified the prevalence, severity, and nature of preventable patient harm.
According to the findings, 28,150 patients experienced harmful incidents related to the medical care given, of which 15,419 were deemed preventable medical mistakes. Of the injuries, 49% were categorized as mild injuries, 36% were defined as moderate and 12% were categorized as severe, meaning a patient was permanently disabled or died as a result of treatment.
The most common types of preventable mistakes were found to be related to therapeutic drugs and invasive medical and surgical procedures, accounting for 49% of preventable injuries. Approximately 16% of injuries were related to diagnosis and infections contracted in the healthcare setting.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patient harm is the 14th leading cause of the global disease burden, compared to diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria. WHO reports there are an estimated 421 million hospitalizations in the world annually, and approximately 42.7 million adverse events occur in patients during these visits.
“Around one in 20 patients are exposed to preventable harm in medical care. Although a focus on preventable patient harm has been encouraged by the international patient safety policy agenda, there are limited quality improvement practices specifically targeting incidents of preventable patient harm rather than overall patient harm,” researchers concluded. “Developing and implementing evidence-based mitigation strategies specifically targeting preventable patient harm could lead to major service quality improvements in medical care which could also be more cost effective.”
Medical mistakes not only cause patients to endure pain and suffering, and potentially death, research indicates they cost the healthcare industry between $17 and $29 billion per year.
This study was released nearly two decades after the Institute of Medicine (IOM) calculated that medical malpractice and mistakes caused 98,000 deaths per year and 1 million injuries. To date, WHO calculates at least 7 million people a year experience disabling surgical complications, about a million of whom die as a result.