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Robert Wolf
Robert Wolf
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Preventable Medical Errors – The Third Leading Cause of Death

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The number of hospital patients who die from preventable errors may be far higher than previously thought, and this trend shows no sign of stopping, according to a new national review of Medicare records by a Denver-based health care ranking group. The findings would make medical mistakes the third-leading cause of death in the country, behind heart disease and cancer.

A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government on health care issues, counted 98,000 deaths in 1999; HealthGrades said there were 195,000 deaths annually from 2000 to 2002, and estimated that Americans paid an extra $19 billion in medical care costs for the victims of mistakes. These reports are nothing short of shocking.

”There is little evidence that patient safety has improved in the last five years,” said Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs at HealthGrades, which publishes rankings of hospitals and doctors. ”The equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people are dying each year due to likely preventable, in-hospital medical errors, making this one of the leading killers in the US.”

Multiple studies have shown that medical errors are widespread, harming up to one in 25 patients who are admitted to the hospital.

”This should give you pause when you go to the hospital,” said Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer of the National Quality Forum, a Washington-based group that develops quality measurements for health care. He said HealthGrades’ tally would be even larger if researchers factored in errors at nursing homes, private doctors’ offices, and other outpatient settings.

According to this published report, HealthGrades officials say their study is particularly gloomy because it suggests there has been no improvement in the death rate following several high-profile mistakes. HealthGrades looked at billing information for 37 million Medicare patients across the country, which list a variety of problems ranging from postoperative infections to reactions to blood transfusions to leaving surgical tools in patients. The group zeroed in on 16 types of mishaps identified by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality as important, estimating a national death rate based on Medicare patients whose deaths could be attributed to them.