Hospital Medical Malpractice Errors are Third Leading Cause of Death, New Study Finds By Tod Aronovitz | 10/15/13 | 0 Comment

A new study released in the September issue of the Journal of Patient Safety is shaking up accepted data from prior research that estimated the number of hospital patients who die in the United States each year from preventable medical mistakes.

These updated estimates for hospital medical malpractice errors—between 210,000 and 440,000 deaths—are much higher than announced in 1999’s “To Err is Human” report published by the Institute of Medicine, which projected that 98,000 people die annually from hospital mistakes. If these new findings become standard, then hospital medical errors would be considered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s third leading cause of death in America, after heart disease and cancer.

John T. James, lead author of the new report, based his results on findings from four recent studies that examined records of more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008 and identified any adverse events suffered by them.  James and his researchers screened records using a methodology called the “Global Trigger Tool” to account for signs of infection, injury, or error in medical records. As a result, researchers came across serious adverse events in almost 21 percent of the cases reviewed with 1.4 percent of cases being fatal.

By extrapolating across 34 million hospitalizations in 2007, James reasoned that needless mistakes are a contributing factor in the deaths of 210,000 hospital patients, which is only the baseline because the Global Trigger Tool doesn’t capture data on treatment that should have been provided but wasn’t, inaccuracies in records, and diagnostic errors.

According to James, the number should actually double to an estimated of 440,000 deaths, which “is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year,” he writes in his study.

Patient safety experts say that the real number is difficult to measure; however, the issue needs to be addressed, regardless of what figures are accepted, because this major public health issue still endures even after years of improvement efforts.

James, who is a toxicologist at NASA’s space center in Houston, leads an advocacy group called Patient Safety America.  He also authored a book about the death of his 19-year old son in 2002, attributing it to negligent hospital care.

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