Preventable Medical Errors A Costly Problem In The US

On behalf of Pat Crispi at Keogh Crispi PC

Most people understand that risk accompanies any medical procedure. However, people trust that their health care providers will do everything in their power to provide the best care possible. It is the unfortunate fact that errors that health care providers make kill thousands in the U.S. every year and cost massive amounts of money. Not everyone is aware of the extent of the problem that preventable medical errors present.

Sixth largest killer in the U.S.

Preventable medical errors wreak huge amounts of damage in the U.S. According to an Institute of Medicine study, about 98,000 people die in the U.S. every year from preventable medical errors, making it the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. A study published in the journal Health Affairs revealed that "adverse events" occur in about one in three hospital patients' stays. Research from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General showed that 40 percent of adverse patient events are preventable.

The cost of these errors is staggering. The Society of Actuaries calculated that the direct cost of medical errors for things such as medical bills, medication and hospital stays was $19.5 billion in 2008 alone. A study printed in the Journal of Health Care Finance estimated that the true cost of medical errors in the U.S. reaches almost $1 trillion each year, when taking into account indirect expenses such as lost productivity and lost human potential.

Surveys show that many people underestimate the extent of the problem of medical errors - even though many have experienced them firsthand. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that one on three respondents had themselves or had a loved one experience a medical error, and one in five of those errors resulted in serious health threats or death. Despite these staggering numbers, half of survey respondents said they believed the annual death toll from medical errors to be 5,000 or lower - a great deal less than the 98,000 deaths that actually occur each year.

Penalties for hospitals

Patient safety advocates say that hospitals need to develop systems to more effectively coordinate care among hospital staff and eliminate errors.

In an effort to motivate hospitals to institute systems that prevent medical errors, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has passed rules that penalize hospitals for hospital acquired conditions such as infections, burns, falls and foreign objects left in patients after surgeries. Hospitals do not get reimbursed from Medicaid or Medicare at as high of a rate if a patient has a condition on a list compiled by CMS that was not present when the patient checked into the hospital.

Talk to a lawyer

While offering financial incentives to improve health care may eliminate some medical errors, it will not completely solve the problem. If you have been injured as a result of a health care provider's error, speak with a seasoned medical malpractice attorney with a history of successfully handling these complex cases.