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.