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Medical errors cost US$8.8 billion

Patient safety incidents cost the federal Medicare program US$8.8 billion and resulted in 238,337 potentially preventable deaths during the period 2004 to 2006, according to healthcare ratings HealthGrades’ fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study.

HealthGrades’ analysis of 41 million Medicare patient records found that patients treated at top-performing hospitals had, on average, a 43% lower chance of experiencing one or more medical errors compared to the poorest-performing hospitals.

The overall incident rate was approximately three percent of all Medicare admissions evaluated, accounting for 1.1 million patient safety incidents during the three years studied. With the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services scheduled to stop reimbursing hospitals for the treatment of eight major preventable errors, including objects left in the body after surgery and certain post-surgical infections, starting 1 October, the financial implications for US hospitals are substantial.

The HealthGrades study found that Medicare patients who experienced a patient-safety incident had a one in five chance of dying as a result of the incident.

Medical errors with the highest incidence rates were bed sores, failure to rescue, and post-operative respiratory failure and accounted for 63.4% of incidents. Failure to rescue improved 11.1% during the study period, while both bed sores and post-operative respiratory failure worsened during the study period.

“While many US hospitals have taken extensive action to prevent medical errors, the prevalence of likely preventable patient safety incidents is taking a costly toll on our health care systems – in both lives and dollars,” said Dr Samantha Collier, HealthGrades’ chief medical officer and the primary author of the study. “HealthGrades has documented in numerous studies the significant and largely unchanging gap between top- performing and poor-performing hospitals. It is imperative that hospitals recognize the benchmarks set by the Distinguished Hospitals for Patient Safety are achievable and associated with higher safety and markedly lower cost. “