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Patient Harm in Hospitals Third Leading Cause of Death

Published on May 27, 2014 at 2:03 pm in Medical Malpractice.

Kentucky Medical MalpracticeA recent Consumer Reports article highlights the continued problem of patient safety in U.S. hospitals. The Journal of Patient Safety, a peer-reviewed medical journal, published a recent study that found that 440,000 patients die each year after suffering a medical error in a hospital.

The study was spearheaded by a scientist whose own son died at the age of 19 after cardiologists at two different hospitals made a series of mistakes. Put in alarming terms: this number of fatalities makes patient harm in hospitals the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.

These numbers are consistent with other research.

Experts agree that it’s hard to come up with precise numbers. In many cases, it’s difficult to determine whether a death was caused by the original underlying medical condition or the subsequent mistakes. Also, many hospital incidents are not recorded. But these new numbers are consistent with prior research.

Drawing from only the pool of Medicare patients, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has estimated that 180,000 Medicare patients die in part because of problems during hospital care.

This new analysis was based on results from four major hospital safety studies. The author himself says the actual number is less relevant than the obvious problem that the numbers are way too high and it doesn’t appear enough is being done about it.

Consumer Reports Safety Score

Consumer Reports advises consumers that they can research hospitals using its “Safety Score,” which analyzes about 2,500 hospitals in all 50 states. The findings are alarming. The medical director of Consumer Reports Health says, “The differences between high-scoring hospitals and low-scoring ones can be a matter of life and death.”

For medical conditions, the example used was that a pneumonia patient admitted to the top-ranking hospital in the study, Cedars-Sinai in LA, who had a 7% chance of dying within 30 days. Compare this to similar patients admitted to Delano Regional Medical Center two hours north of LA, who had a 22% chance of death.

There was also a difference for surgical patients, but slightly less marked. For every 1,000 surgical patients who experienced serious, but treatable complications (such as blood clots or cardiac arrest), 87 or fewer die in top-rated hospitals, compared to 132 in low-rated ones.