Medical Errors Affect One in Four Adults

A new survey from the Harvard School of Public Health on Massachusetts adults, commissioned by the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction, found that one in four had either been affected by a mistake in their medical care or that of someone close to them, reported NPR affiliate WBUR today. Half said that the harm inflicted was serious. Many others reported that they received the wrong operation, drug, dosage, test, or treatment. This coincides with data that shows up to 440,000 Americans die every year from medical errors.

Barbara Fain, executive director of the Lehman Center, said that there is a serious problem with underreporting and that “We’re only seeing a tiny percentage of the full range of medical harm that is happening.” Similarly, Dr. Eric Schneider of the RAND corporation, a co-author of a comparable 2003 study, said patients should be the “eyes and ears to help health providers understand where the risks are,” but that people don’t know how to report errors, “or they may be afraid to share that information because they don’t want to get anyone in trouble or they don’t want to be retaliated against.”

The Harvard study showed that more than 9 out of 10 surveyed wanted more disclosure of medical errors, saying that doctors and nursing homes should be required to disclose errors and that the public should be able to find out the number and types of errors made by individual hospitals and doctors.

The civil justice system ensures that patients and their families can seek accountability, and encourages healthcare providers to improve patient care.

Takeaway facts from AAJ:

  • 440,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors.  [Journal of Patient Safety]
  • Preventable medical errors cost our country tens of billions of dollars a year.  [Institute of Medicine]
  • One in three patients who are admitted to the hospital will experience a medical error.  [Health Affairs]
  • Studies of wrong site, wrong surgery, wrong patient procedures show that “never events” are happening at an alarming rate of up to 40 times per week in U.S. hospitals.  [Archives of Surgery]
  • Medical negligence lawsuits amount to just one-half of one percent of all health care costs.  [Congressional Budget Office]
  • Medical negligence cases represent well under 2 percent of all civil cases.  [National Center for State Courts]
  • Researchers at Harvard University found that 97 percent of cases were meritorious, concluding, “Portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown.”  [New England Journal of Medicine]
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