Report: Surgical Errors Cost $1.5 Billion Annually

A US government report just released information stating that <"">preventable medical errors occurring during or following surgery cause 10 percent of all surgery-related deaths and may be costing employers nearly $1.5 billion annually.  Errors ranged from bedsores and reopened wounds to infections and blood clots, the study stated.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) conducted the study and reviewed the records of over 161,000 patients aged 18 to 64 who were covered by employer-based health plans and who underwent surgery in 2001 and 2002.

The records revealed that of those patients who died within 90 days of surgery, one in every 10 died due to a preventable error; one-third of the deaths occurred following patient discharge.  One patient who developed acute respiratory failure after surgery cost insurers $28,218, or 52 percent more, while an infection cost $19,480 or 48 percent more, agency researchers William Encinosa and Fred Hellinger found.  Errors related to nursing care, such as pressure ulcers and hip fractures, added $12,196 to the average bill.  “Eliminating medical errors and their after effects must continue to be top priority for our health care system,” AHRQ Director Carolyn Clancy said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in April we reported that medical errors—or patient safety incidents—were costing the federal Medicare program upwards of $8.8 billion.  Worse, in the period 2004-2006, patient safety incidents resulted in 238,337 potentially preventable deaths according to HealthGrades’ fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study.  HealthGrades analyzed 41 million Medicare patient records.  The overall incident rate was approximately three percent of all Medicare admissions evaluated, which accounted for 1.1 million patient safety incidents during the three years studied.  Effective October 1, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are scheduled to stop reimbursing hospitals for the treatment of eight major preventable errors, including objects left in the body following surgery and some post-surgical infections.  Given this, the financial implications for hospitals are substantial.

The HealthGrades study also identified hospitals with patient-safety incidence levels in the lowest five percent in the nation and found that Medicare patients who experienced a patient-safety incident during the study time frame, had a one-in-five chance of dying as a result of the incident.  Medical errors with the highest incidence rates were bedsores, failure to rescue, and post-operative respiratory failure, accounting for over 63 percent of all incidents. Bedsores and post-operative respiratory failure worsened during the study period.  Finally, of the 270,491 deaths that occurred among patients who developed one or more patient safety incidents, the vast majority—a staggering 238,337—were preventable.

If all hospitals performed at the level of Distinguished Hospitals for Patient Safetyâ„¢, approximately 220,106 patient safety incidents and 37,214 Medicare deaths could have been avoided, saving the US about $2.0 billion during 2004 to 2006.  “It is imperative that hospitals recognize the benchmarks set by the Distinguished Hospitals for Patient Safety are achievable and associated with higher safety and markedly lower cost,” said Dr. Samantha Collier, HealthGrades’ chief medical officer and the primary author of the study.

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