November 1, 2010

In a recent study, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that 1 in every 7 Medicare patients in hospitals is the victim of a serious medical mistake. All told, adverse events are a factor in about 180,000 patient deaths every year — a significant increase over 1999′s estimate of 98,000. What’s most troubling is that, according to the new report, 44 percent of those adverse events were preventable.

An adverse event can be a medication error, an infection or a surgical complication. Seniors are at particular risk, because they often have more complicated health issues and their systems are more fragile.

For Medicare patients, an adverse event doesn’t just mean another round of antibiotics. It can mean a longer hospital stay, life-sustaining intervention, permanent harm or even death. If 1 in 7 Medicare recipients is affected, that means 134,000 patients per month suffer an adverse event, and 15,000 of those patients die as a result.

In the study population, more than half of the errors were related to medication, through incorrect dose, incorrect drug or inadequate treatment of side effects. Most of these were the result of hospital staff’s failure to monitor the patient adequately or, worse, failure to diagnose correctly.

One in 7 patients experienced less serious events, such as falls or allergic reactions. And, the report noted, with elderly patients, the risk of experiencing more than one adverse event during a hospital stay is high. Physical frailty and complicated medical conditions, again, make them especially vulnerable.

There are two kinds of costs associated with every Medicare patient who suffers a medical error: the human cost and the cost to taxpayers. If Americans are unmoved by the human cost, perhaps they will be moved by the estimated $4 billion spent every year to mitigate the effects of adverse events through longer hospital stays and additional treatment. The bill would be even higher if follow-up care were included.

In our next post, we will discuss specific recommendations included in the report.

Source: USA Today “Medical Mistakes Plague Medicare Patients” 11/16/10

Categories: Blog