A recent study from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that one in seven Medicare recipients treated at a hospital is in some way harmed due to a medical mistake or some form of medical malpractice or negligence.
The report termed these mistakes or omissions as “adverse events” and found that they contributed to the deaths of about 180,000 patients every year. Moreover, the cost incurred by the government for these health expenses was estimated as at least $4.4 billion a year. Perhaps the most troubling part of the report was the finding that of all the adverse events occurring in hospitals, almost 45% of them were likely preventable.
The most common adverse events found by the study were problems related to medications and patient care such as giving an individual an improper dosage or failing to monitor patients’ fluids correctly. Other major issues included incidences of infections developing while in a hospital and surgical mistakes resulting in further complications.
The study found that the most serious forms of malpractice constituted only about 1% of the adverse events. Mistakes such as performing surgery on the wrong patient, giving a patient the wrong type of blood, or giving a lethal dose of medication, are errors that apparently still quite rare.
The study was reportedly conducted by examining the records of around 800 individual patients chosen to be a representative sample of medical patients currently on Medicare. The report concluded with a call for financial incentives for hospitals to reduce their own errors.
The study did not address medical malpractice lawsuits arising out of these adverse events. However, holding hospitals and doctors accountable for the harm they cause to patients can be the strongest incentive for increased patient safety to prevent such harm in the future. In addition, when health care providers escape responsibility for the harm they cause, the cost will ultimately be absorbed by the taxpayers. Isn’t it time hospitals and doctors stopped complaining about lawsuits and started focusing intead on patient safety? What better way to solve the alleged malpractice problem than by not committing mapractice?
Source: New York Times, Mistakes Chronicled on Medicare Patients, Duff Wilson 11/16/10