Report Finds Medical Errors More Common, More Deadly Than Previously Estimated

A new study released today by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that 1 in 7 Medicare patients were harmed by the care they received in the hospital during a month studied by the agency.

The study shows that hospital patients are harmed much more frequently than previously estimated and points to the need for mandatory validated public reporting of medical errors, according to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

"When mistakes are made in hospitals, the consequences can be serious and too often deadly," says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Unions Safe Patient Project (www.SafePatientProject.org). "This report shows that hospital patients are being harmed by medical errors at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, most Americans have no way of knowing whether their hospital is doing a good job preventing medical errors."

The OIG study was based on a physician review of the medical records of a nationally representative sample of 780 Medicare patients during October 2008. It found that 134,000 hospitalized Medicare patients experienced medical harm in that month.

The OIG calculated that Medicare patients harmed during that month required an additional $324 million in hospital care. The study estimated the annual cost for these events in hospital care alone at $4.4 billion.

According to the OIG, an estimated 15,000 Medicare patients experienced medical errors in the hospital that contributed to their deaths each month. That amounts to about 180,000 patients annually.

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia collect data from hospitals on the incidence of certain medical errors. But only six states have disclosed hospital-specific medical error information to the public. Even worse, half of all states do not have any medical error reporting requirements in place.

In most states, hospital-specific information is kept secret and hospitals can get away with under-reporting errors because there is no effort made to systematically validate the data that hospitals are required to report.

"The public should have the right to know when hospitals harm patients," says McGiffert. "We need public reporting of medical errors so we can hold hospitals accountable for keeping patients safe. And states must check the data it collects to ensure that hospitals are providing a full and accurate picture to the public."

Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws in recent years that require hospital-specific reporting of patient infection rates to the public. So far, 21 states have issued reportsdetailing infection rates by hospital to the public.

"Hospital infection reporting laws have increased awareness about patient infections and stimulated prevention efforts at hospitals," McGiffert adds. "We need to require public reporting of medical errors to bring the same attention and energy to preventing other kinds of patient harm."

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