Medical Injuries Have Huge Social Costs

The cost of medical injuries has been estimated at about $17 billion annually, according to MedPage Today; however, there is a so-called “social” cost that can reach as high as $958 billion, annually. This amounts to about half of U.S. healthcare spending in 2008 say two studies published in Health Affairs.

The first study, authored by Jill Van Den Bos, consultant with Milliman, looked at “the $17.1 billion problem” of <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/practice_areas/medical_malpractice">medical errors, said MedPage Today. That study reviewed a national sampling of medical claims submitted from 2000 through 2008, with the most common injuries analyzed to determine if medical error was the cause.

An infection resulting post-operatively or a pressure ulcer from a medical error occurred in 90 percent of the cases, said MedPage Today, which noted that the researchers indicated that these are among the most common and costliest medical injuries from medical errors. The researchers noted that the most common medical injury—adverse drug reactions—has a less than 10-percent likelihood of being caused by a medical error, wrote MedPage Today. “Although adverse drug effects occur frequently, most are assumed not to result from medical error,” the authors wrote, quoted MedPage Today.

Ten types of medical errors comprised over two-thirds of total costs of errors: “Postoperative infection; pressure ulcer; mechanical complication of a noncardiac device, implant or graft; postlaminectomy syndrome; hemorrhage complicating a procedure; infection due to a central venous catheter; collapsed lung; infection following an infusion, injection, transfusion, or vaccination; complications from an internal prosthetic device, implant or graft; and abdominal hernia,” said MedPage Today. The authors also pointed out that injuries typically are not taking place following complex procedures and generally follow “straightforward” care.

The second study, conducted by John Goodman and colleagues at the free-market-oriented National Center for Policy Analysis in Dallas, Texas, used the “value of a statistical life” approach, which looked at the statistical value of a patient’s life, said MedPage Today. Co-author Pamela Villarreal, told MedPage Today, that the average person places his/her life value at $8.2 million. The “value of statistical life” also took into consideration the trade-offs people typically make on their lives—driving, taking riskier jobs for more money—and looked at what regulatory agencies use: The Department of Defense values life at $6 million; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at $7.9 million; and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at $9.1 million, said MedPage Today.

The cost of inpatient adverse medical events—between $348 billion and $913 billion—is based on 108,000 deaths and 6.1 million injuries in hospitals annually. Goodman described a medical error as “medical interventions that cause harm separate from the patient’s underlying medical condition,” said MedPage Today.

Reuters recently reported that people are suffering from hospital errors more often than first believed, saying that about one in three Americans are injured over hospital mistakes. U.S. researchers used a new measurement tool to determine hospital mistakes, finding about 10 times more errors than prior estimates, said Reuters.

We previously wrote that another study conducted over six years and involving 2,341 hospital admissions in North Carolina revealed that 18 percent of patients suffered at least one safety-related issue, with hospital injuries ranging from minor problems to dangerous mistakes and even 14 fatalities. The study—which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine—looked at U.S. 10 hospitals and revealed no decrease in injuries from 2002 to 2007. This followed a 1999 report issued by the Institute of Medicine in which it was discovered that medical errors led to a shocking 98,000 deaths and in excess of one million injuries. And, although North Carolina is ahead of the curve in steps aimed at improving patient safety, the figures are daunting.

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