How common are hospital errors?
A shocking new study suggests that the number of “adverse events” befalling patients in U.S. hospitals may be 10 times higher than previous estimates.
If the authors are correct, this would mean that medical mistakes affect one in three people hospitalized in the US. The study, published in the journal Health Affairs involved a review of almost 800 patient charts at three U.S. hospitals. Using a review technique known as the “global trigger tool,” researchers detected a whopping 354 adverse events. Scarier still, that figure might actually understate the enormity of the problem as it was based on potentially incomplete medical records rather than on direct observation in real time.
Dr. David C. Classen of the University of Utah believes his study gives a more reliable tally of hospital errors than other studies, including a 1999 landmark study from the Institute of Medicine entitled To Err is Human showing that hospital errors caused up to 98,000 Americans each year.
So what sorts of events were uncovered in the new review? According to Classen, there were three big ones:
- Medication errors, including getting the wrong drug the wrong dose of the right drug
- Surgical errors, such as having an operation done on the wrong site or gaffes that result in bleeding or infection;
- Hospital-acquired infections
The question many are now asking: is the new estimate accurate?
“It is hard to know that to make of the trigger tool,” admits Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, a Professor in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (Departments of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, and Surgery) and Medical Director for the Center for Innovation in Quality Patient Care.
However, “Far too many patients suffer preventable harm in the U.S.” he added.
Other recent studies appear to confirm Classen’s findings.
Earlier this month the US government released data for the first time, showing how often patients are injured by certain medical errors in hospitals. However, only eight types of serious, preventable errors were included in the comparison.
They were: air in the bloodstream, falls, bedsores, transfusions with the wrong blood type, urinary tract infections, blood infections, uncontrolled blood-sugar levels and foreign objects left in the body after surgery.
Other serious events, including wrong-site surgeries and medication errors, were not included.
And late last year, the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said 180,000 Medicare recipients die each year from hospital mistakes. That’s more people than are killed every year in car crashes, or from diabetes or pneumonia.
Without doubt, health care has improved over the past decade, but it’s clear that there is still a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and devoid of disparities based on race or ethnicity.
Until then, SRxA’s Word on Health advises that if you think something is amiss or wrong with your hospital care, speak up.