Friday, November 18, 2011

How Common Are Medical Errors?

Researchers at the University of Utah led by Dr. David Classen found that about one of every three patients hospitalized in the US will experience some sort of mistake during their stay.  The findings indicate the error rate may be as high as 10 times greater than estimated using older methods. 

“It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that is consistently high-quality -- that is, safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and devoid of disparities based on race or ethnicity,” said Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal that explores health policy issues of current concern that published the research.

The medical errors found ranged from decubitus ulcers and staph infections to objects left in the body after surgery.  It is estimated that medical errors that cause harm to patients annually cost $17.1 billion in 2008 dollars.

“A key challenge has been agreeing on a yardstick for measuring the safety of care in hospitals,” the researchers wrote.  To find the best yardstick, the team tested three methods of tracking errors on the same set of medical records from three different hospitals.

Among the 795 patient records reviewed, voluntary reporting detected four problems, the Agency for Healthcare Research’s (AHR) quality indicator found 35, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s tool detected 354 events -- 10 times more than AHR’s method.

“Our findings indicate that two methods commonly used by most care delivery organizations and supported by policy makers to measure the safety of care ... fail to detect more than 90% of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients,” the team wrote.

The research was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which focuses on U.S. healthcare issues.

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