Medical Malpractice

Preventable Hospital Errors

By October 25, 20136 Comments

By: George Wise

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a widely cited study called To Err Is Human. In it we learned that 98,000 people were dying every year from preventable errors in hospitals. Unfortunately, that study underestimated the number of deaths. According to a new study just out from the prestigious Journal of Patient Safety, four times as many people die from preventable medical errors than we thought, as many as 440,000 a year.

Read the study here.

Medical errors now claim the spot as the third leading cause of death in the United States, ahead of auto accidents and diabetes. Only cancer and heart disease cause more deaths. It is likely the estimates in this new study will replace the Institute of Medicine estimates from 1999. That means hospitals are killing off the equivalent of the entire population of Pulaski County, Arkansas every year. More than a thousand people a day are dying from preventable errors.

These deaths are not from the illness which hospitalized the patient in the first place. Patients are dying from preventable errors due to a lack of emphasis on safety. These preventable errors are common and well known. A sponge left inside the surgical patient causing a massive infection. A massive medication overdose. Infections from contaminated equipment used at the bedside. Following safety rules prevents these errors.

When will it end? Society picks up the costs of these errors in the form of higher costs for hospital care. Employers lose good employees and thousands of dollars in lost productivity. Families needlessly lose loved ones. We need to insist that hospitals implement safety standards to eliminate these errors. Safety first should be a hospital’s motto.


  • James Cook says:

    It’s an embarassing state of affairs as compared with other industrialized nations.

  • Armand Leone says:

    The malpractice crisis is the amount of malpractice. Neither Obamacare or any of the other healthcare proposals address the problem of negligent medical injury in the United States. Even more distressing is that the cost of bringing a malpractice claim has risen to the point where many cases of lesser but significant injury are not economically viable to bring and these injured patients are left without a remedy.

  • Frederick Schwartz, Esq. says:

    The real question is what is causing the increase in medical malpractice.

  • Kathleen Nastri says:

    We need to make sure we keep hospitals accountable for these errors. Our job as trial lawyers is to protect our clients and restore their lives after these preventable and often tragic errors.

  • Deborah Nelson says:

    Thanks for this important article. The human toll of these preventable deaths is, of course, the real news. The only “malpractice crisis” is that it is so prevalent, not that people are filing claims.

  • Thomas Greer says:

    Good article. Also, only a small fraction of victims ever bring suit, which is contrary to the myth that frivolous lawsuits are driving up the cost of healthcare.