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Hospitals Killing up to 400,000 Patients a Year?

New study says preventable errors are more common than previously thought.

Published: September 30, 2013

Preventable adverse events in hospitals are responsible for at least 210,000 deaths a year, and might cause as many as 400,000 deaths a year, according to a new study published in the Journal of Patient Safety.

The study suggests that the Institute of Medicine's 1999 report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, significantly underestimated the number, which it pegged at up to 98,000 deaths per year. Lucian Leape, MD, a member of the committee that wrote "To Err Is Human" tells ProPublica that he considers the new estimate valid and that committee members knew at the time that their estimate was low.

The new study was authored by John T. James, PhD, whose 19-year-old son died while running in 2002, because, says his father, his cardiologists didn't warn him not to run, even after he'd experienced syncope while doing so.

The report is based on 4 recent studies that primarily used the "Global Trigger Tool" to flag specific evidence in medical records, such as medication stop orders or abnormal laboratory results. In each case, a physician had to have agreed on the findings of an adverse event and classified the severity of patient harm.

Classified as PAEs were errors of commission, errors of omission, errors of communication, errors of context, and diagnostic errors.

Regardless of what the actual number is, the author concludes, "action and progress on patient safety is frustratingly slow [and] one must hope that the present, evidence-based estimate will foster an outcry for overdue changes and increased vigilance in medical care."

Jim Burger

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