Study: Hospitals Make Money From Surgical Errors

A new study reveals that hospitals actually make money from their own surgical errors.

Insurers pay hospitals for the longer stays and additional care patients require when  preventable surgical errors occur, according to a study just published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, said The New York Times.

Study authors—from the Boston Consulting Group; Harvard’s schools of medicine and public health; and Texas Health Resources, a nonprofit hospital system—suggest that a change to the current payment system, in which poor care is no longer rewarded, might help reduce surgical complication rates. Certainly, should the system remain the same, there is little incentive for change and some hospitals will likely lose money if they provide better care, said The Times.

The study is based on an analysis of 34,256 surgical records from 2010 in which care was provided at one of 12 hospitals run by Texas Health Resources;1,820 patients experienced one or more preventable complications such as blood clots, pneumonia, or infected incisions. In those cases, the average length of stay increased four-fold to 14 days, with hospital revenue averaging $30,500 more over patients with no complications. Private insurers covered more than Medicare, Medicaid, and patients paying out-of-pocket, said The Times.

The authors stressed that they were not suggesting the profits were being achieved intentionally. “Absolutely not,” David Sadoff, a managing director of the Boston Consulting Group, told The Times. “We don’t believe that is happening at all.” According to Sadoff, the researchers believe today’s payment system creates challenges for hospitals that perform better as improvements and improved performance is costly.

Susan Pisano, spokeswoman for insurance company trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, told The Times the researched revealed that the health care system must abandon “the perverse incentives of the old fee-for-service system that emphasized quantity over quality, and toward methods of payment that reward better care.”

Last year, we wrote that research indicated that surgeons make thousands of errors yearly in the United States, a shocking finding based on a study of thousands of surgeries over ten years. The so-called “never events,” said The Wall Street Journal, previously, are those mistakes that should not occur in medicine and include serious blunders such as surgery on the wrong patient and leaving sponges inside patients’ bodies. Research suggests these types of serious medical errors occur with distressing regularity. Lead study author, Martin Makary, associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins, said surgical mistakes are “totally preventable.”

We’ve long written about the issue of botched surgeries. In prior studies, as in this study, researchers noted that mistakes occur more often than realized and these types of errors are fully preventable.

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