U.S. Hospital Medical Errors Keep Rising: Report

Safety incidents linked to these mistakes topped 1.2 million by 2004

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MONDAY, April 3, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- The number of medical errors leading to "patient safety incidents" rose in U.S. hospitals to 1.24 million between 2002-2004, compared to 1.14 million over the previous three-year period, says a new study released Monday by the healthcare ratings company HealthGrades.

These incidents also resulted in $9.3 billion in excess costs, the report found.

Those 1.24 million safety incidents occurred among 40 million hospitalizations covered under Medicare. Patients at the top-performing hospitals had 43 percent lower incidence of medical errors compared to patients at the worst hospitals.

Among states, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, and Kansas ranked as the top ones for hospital patient safety. New Jersey was the worst for patient safety, along with New York, Nevada, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia.

"Overall, we see the number of patient safety incidents in American hospitals continuing to increase, at an enormous cost, and we still see a large gap between the incidence rates at the nation's top-performing and worst-performing hospitals," Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs at HealthGrades, said in a prepared statement.

"But we do find the results of serious attempts to grapple with this issue in the success of top-performing hospitals and in progressive states like Minnesota," Collier said.

Among the other findings in this third HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals study:

  • If all hospitals performed at the level of the top 15 percent of hospitals, there would have been 280,134 fewer Medicare patient safety incidents and 44,153 fewer deaths, saving $2.45 billion in the years 2002 to 2004;
  • Of the 304,702 deaths that occurred among patients who developed at least one patient safety incident, 250,246 were potentially preventable;
  • Medicare patients who had at least one safety incident had a 1-in-4 chance of dying during their hospitalization. That rate is unchanged since the first study;
  • Medicare patients in Minnesota had a nearly 30 percent lower risk of developing one or more safety incidents, compared to patients in New Jersey.

The most common safety incidents were decubitus ulcers (bedsores), post-operative sepsis (a bacterial bloodstream infection), and failure to rescue.

"Failure to rescue is the inability to save a hospitalized patient's life when that patient has acquired in the hospital a complication, such as when a patient admitted for a total knee replacement develops pneumonia and dies," Collier said.

More information

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has more about improving healthcare quality.

SOURCE: HealthGrades, news release, April 3, 2006

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