Report: Medical Errors Injure Upwards Of 488,900

By Steve Rensberry 
srensberry@rensberrypublishing.com
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   (RPC) - 2/19/2016 - A recent report by the Heartland Health Research Institute estimates that between 281,000 and 488,900 patients in Illinois hospitals are injured each year to do preventable medical errors or events. The estimate nationally is between 6.6 million and 11.5 million patients.
Preventable injuries occurring in Illinois hospitals.
    “If the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) were to include preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals as a category, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease and cancer,” an HHRI press release about the report states.
   Fatalities occur in Illinois hospitals due to preventable adverse events (PAE) at an estimated rate of about 1 death for every 139 hospital admissions. By comparison, 11 patients die in hospitals from such errors for every vehicle fatality, 15 patients die for every murder committed in the state, and altogether nearly 3 percent of the state's entire population is harmed each year by PAEs. The frequency and volume translates into about one fatality every 50 minutes in the state due to such errors.
   The annual cost of such errors? The HHRI report estimates that in Illinois the annual social cost of such fatalities is about $5.2 billion. Nationally the cost is estimated between $23.1 billion and $103.4 billion. The number of injured patients annually in Illinois, based on the most common types of preventable medical errors, is as follows: adverse drug events (72,600 patients); venous thromboembolisms/, VTEs – blood clots that form within a vein (48,800); decubitus ulcers, bed soars (36,400); catheter-related urinary tract infections (17,500); falls in the hospital (16,200); nosocomial pneumonia (12,600); catheter, related bloodstream infections (6,300).  
   "Preventable medical errors in our hospitals is clearly alarming, both in the number of lives affected and in cost." Heartland Health Research Institute President David Lind stated. "Is Illinois making progress on preventable medical errors? The quick answer is, we don't really know because reporting yields a healthy dose of under-counting and under-reporting of medical errors. Without having stringently-coordinated regulations and policies that effectively hold providers accountable through transparent reporting, medical errors will continue and the public will remain in the dark. The Federal Aviation Administration has such regulations - shouldn't our safety be just as important when we enter a hospital as it is when we board an airplane? The public deserves transparency and accountability on this issue."
   A study by USA Today in 2013, using data from the National Practitioner Data Bank and other sources, point to an additional worry for potential patients – unnecessary surgeries, which the article states might account for as much as 10-20 percent of all operations in some specialties. Cites are cardiac procedures such as stents, angioplasty and pacemaker implants, spinal surgeries, hysterectomies, cesarean sections, and knee replacements.
   “Tens of thousands of times each year, patients are wheeled into the nation's operating rooms for surgery that isn't necessary,” authors Peter Eisler and Barbara Hensen write.
   What makes the size of the problem difficult to calculate is that only the worse cases are likely to become public knowledge, and if a surgery by chance takes care of a problem that could have been alleviated with lesser therapy or a non-surgical procedure, little suspicion is raised because the problem is gone.
   “Hospitals around the country do not report PAEs accurately and consistently - if at all,” the HHRI report states. “National experts acknowledge that most PAEs are either under reported or unreported. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General issued a report in 2012 stating, 'Hospital staff did not report 86 percent of [patient harm] events to incident reporting systems, partly because of staff misperceptions about what constitutes patient harm.' This behavior reflects our culture of silence.”
   An October 27, 2015 Harvard Business Review report, written by Rebecca Wentraub, Yannis K. Valtis and Peter Bonis, claims there are many as 44,000 deaths in the Unites States each year due to preventable medical errors, with a price tag of roughly $17 billion.

Photo by Steve Rensberry (c) 2014