Medical errors have continued at an unacceptable rate for almost two decades. Medical errors in hospitals alone result in over 90,000 preventable deaths per year according to the staff at the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010 the U.S government started the Partnership for Patients: Better Care, Lower Costs to decrease deaths from medical errors. The program goals are to decrease preventable deaths by 40% by 2013 and decrease complications that frequently occur when patients are discharged or transferred to an interim facility. The deaths are caused by medical errors. The number of injuries from medical error is even greater.
The HHS was required to estimate the number of deaths each year that could be avoided by better health care. To do this the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality relied on the Institute of Medicine’s 1998 study that found 98,000 deaths occur each year from medical error in hospitals alone. For over 12 years this number has not gotten any better, and when non-hospital deaths are included, such as nursing homes and rehabilitation centers, then the number of deaths from medical error is doubled.
Most alarming is the cost to the public of these deaths. Families lose a loved one, and the loss of a bread winner to a family cannot be made up by the government. The cost for medical error causing injury is even greater. One in every seven Medicare patients is injured from medical errors, costing Medicare $4.4 billion per year. One in five Medicare patients are readmitted to hospitals in 30 days, or 2.6 million patients at a cost of $26 billion a year. The cost in lost productivity and loss of quality of life is even greater.
The numbers of preventable deaths and injury are more alarming when one considers they do not include deaths from preventable infections due to medical errors. In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported central-line bloodstream infections in primary care kill 25% of those who contract them. In addition, 1 out of every 35 primary care consultations cause harm to patients from medication errors. The To Err is Human 1998 study did not even include these injuries and deaths.
A 2010 study found since 1998, our health care system has not improved at all. Over 25% of patients hospitalized are injured or killed from medical error. N Engl J Med. 2010 Nov 25;363(22):2124-34. Our judicial system allows recovery for injury or death from medical error, otherwise called medical malpractice.