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Cost of Medical Errors: $17 billion

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Its has been well established that medical errors are a serious problem in modern health care. One study found that medical errors kill between 50k and 100k annually and another found that 2.9% of people who enter the hospital are actually harmed by the care they receive. The most recent issue of Health Affairs, however, has found that not only is there still much work to be done, but the scale of the problem may be even larger than previously anticipated. Some of the key findings from the press release include the following:

  • Claussen et al. (2011) “…compared three methods for detecting adverse events in hospitalized patients, including the Institute’s own Global Trigger Tool. The study drew on comparable samples of patients from three leading hospitals that had undertaken quality and safety improvement efforts. Among the 795 patient records reviewed, voluntary reporting detected four events, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Indicators detected 35, and the Global Trigger Tool detected 354 events, ten times more than the AHRQ method. In other words, the AHRQ indicators and voluntary reporting missed more than 90 percent of adverse events identified by the Global Trigger Tool. If anything, the researchers say, their findings are conservative, because they rely on medical record review, which would not detect as many adverse events as direct, real-time observation would.
  • Van Den Bos et al. (2011) estimate that “…the annual cost of measurable preventable medical errors that harm patients to be $17.1 billion…”
  • Werner et al. (2011) examines whether P4P can help improve quality. They examine the effect of Medicare’s largest pay-for-performance hospital demonstration project, the CMS/Premier Hospital Quality Incentive Demonstration. “The findings suggest that, while hospital quality did improve under the demonstration, by the end of the experiment, other hospitals not in the demonstration had caught up.”

Most people think medical care is supposed to improve your health, not diminish it. Reducing medical errors may be the single most important issue to improve medical quality now and in the future.

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