Out of every 3 patients who go to hospital in the United States, 1 will encounter a hospital error, according to an article published in Health Affairs. The authors, from the University of Utah reveal that mistakes made in hospital are ten times higher than previous estimates. The researchers used a new tool for measuring hospital mistakes.

The researchers say a lot needs to be done to improve the quality, accuracy and reliability of hospital services.

Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, said:

“Without doubt, we’ve seen improvements in health care over the past decade, and even pockets of excellence, but overall progress has been agonizingly slow.

It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that is consistently high-quality — that is, safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and devoid of disparities based on race or ethnicity.”

Examples of hospital errors included:

  • Leaving stuff inside the patient’s body after a surgical intervention
  • Life-threatening staph infections
  • Bedsores (pressure ulcers)
  • Persistent back pain after surgery
  • Giving the patient the wrong drug
  • Giving the patient the wrong dosage
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Doing a surgical procedure on the wrong part of the body

David Classen and team compared a new tool for measuring hospital errors developed at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Massachusetts, with two older ones. The older ones included self-reported data, which many believe is unreliable.

They reviewed the record of 795 patients, and found that their new tool was much more reliable than the two commonly used older ones.

The authors wrote:

“Our findings indicate that two methods commonly used by most care delivery organizations and supported by policy makers to measure the safety of care … fail to detect more than 90 percent of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients.”

Another study, also published in Health Affairs estimated that harm to a patients caused by medical errors in 2008 cost $17.1 billion. The study was lead by Jill Van Den Bos, Denver Health practice of the Milliman Inc. consulting firm.

In 1999, the IOM (Institute of Medicine) issued a report, called To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which revealed that 44,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths occur annually in the USA due to medical errors in hospitals.

‘Global Trigger Tool’ Shows That Adverse Events In Hospitals May Be Ten Times Greater Than Previously Measured
David C. Classen, Roger Resar, Frances Griffin, Frank Federico, Terri Frankel, Nancy Kimmel, John C. Whittington, Allan Frankel, Andrew Seger and Brent C. James
Health Aff April 2011 vol. 30 no. 4 581-589 doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0190

Written by Christian Nrodqvist