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Harm from hospital medical care studied – November 23, 2010

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services recently released statistics from a new study indicating that an estimated one in seven elderly patients experience some sort of medical error or other adverse effect from their hospitalization. The study was a nationally represented group focused on 780 Medicare patients that had been discharged from hospitals in October 2008.  The study was the first of its kind designed to understand “adverse events,”  or any medical care delivered in hospitals that caused harm to the patient.  Some of these problems involve surgical errors, drastic reduction in blood sugar levels, infections, excessive bleeding from blood thinners and bed sores. Physician reviewers determined that roughly 44% of the “adverse events” were clearly or likely preventable. The report also noted that “events related to surgery or procedures were less likely to be preventable than other types of events, such as hospital-acquired infections. Preventable events were linked most commonly to medical errors, substandard care, and lack of patient monitoring and assessment.”

According to the study, the estimated additional medical cost resulting from these adverse events is $4.4 billion.  More alarming, the study further estimated that 1.5% of Medicare beneficiaries experience an adverse event which contributed to their deaths.  Given the number of Medicare beneficiaries, the estimated number of deaths nationally totals roughly 180,000 annually.

“When mistakes are made in hospitals, the consequences can be serious and too often deadly.” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient project, commenting on the study at their website. “This report shows that hospital patients are being harmed by medical errors at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, most Americans have no way of knowing whether their hospital is doing a good job preventing medical errors.”

She added, “We need to require public reporting of medical errors to bring the same attention and energy to preventing other kinds of patient harm.”


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