Federal Report: Decline in Medical Errors, Underreporting Still at Issue


Preventable injuries and deaths resulting from medical errors is still a significant problem. No one is asserting otherwise. Since a startling National Institute of Medicine report in 1999 indicated an estimated 98,000 people die each year in hospitals as a result of preventable hospital errors.

Now, however, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports a 17 percent decline in the number of hospital-acquired conditions from 2010 to 2013, which officials translated to 50,000 fewer deaths and a savings of $12 billion nationally.

Still, researchers have reason to believe there are some 600,000 people nationwide who suffer serious health consequences as a result of medical errors. These kinds of mistakes include:

  • Infections resulting from unsanitary conditions or practices
  • Medication errors (overdoses, wrong medications, too low dosage)
  • Surgical errors
  • Misdiagnosis or missed diagnosis
  • Birth injuries

Our medical malpractice attorneys know these problems continue to be at issue. While federal administrators cite a 2011 initiative, Partnership for Patients, funded by the Affordable Care Act, as being instrumental in reducing preventable hospital injuries (particularly birth injuries and infections), one study published by the journal Health Affairs indicated one-third of hospital patients experience some adverse event while there. However, many of those cases aren’t formally reported, even when serious problems resulted.

Researcher suspect there are a few things going on. For one, people don’t think reporting it or pursuing litigation is going to make any difference. In some cases, people simply don’t know how to report it.

But even if injured patients aren’t planning to pursue litigation, the incident should be reported. Proper reporting gives the hospital a chance to identify and address potential problem areas. Beyond that, if someone is injured, it will create documentation the hospital knew there was a problem and failed to remedy it.

Certainly, a 17 percent decrease in a three-year period is significant. However, there are still some who say it’s not enough, especially considering fixes for some problems are as simple as routine hand-washing and double-checking prescription orders.

In Boston, researchers with Harvard University recently reported 23 percent of adults had been personally involved in a medical error at some time during the last five years. In half of those cases, the error resulted in serious health consequences. The vast majority of these incidents (75 percent) occurred while the person was a patient in a hospital. Most people interpreted these issues to be the result of mistakes by individual doctors or nurses, rather than systemic problems resulting from policy errors in the hospitals or clinics.

While a significant portion of those surveyed said they did not report, 90 percent of those who did said the primary motivating factor was to ensure the same thing didn’t happen to someone else.

The analysis was commissioned by the Betsy Lehman Center, an organization founded after the 1994 death of a Boston Globe health columnist who died as a result of receiving a massive overdose of chemotherapy drugs to treat her breast cancer. The columnist left behind a husband and two daughters.

The Obama administration has promised Partnership for Patients will continue to press forward with new initiatives and more partnerships.

If you have been injured, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Obama Administration Announces Major Decline in Medical Errors, Dec. 2, 2014, L.A. Times

More Blog Entries:

Scott v. C.R. Bard, Inc. – Surgical Mesh Lawsuits Continue to Succeed, Dec. 6, 2014, Boca Raton Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog