hospital negligence rates no lower after decade of effort part i

In the year 2000, a nationwide report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine revealed that harm to patients caused by hospital negligence was shockingly common — resulting in up to 98,000 wrongful deaths and over one million injuries every year in the United States.

In response, patient safety advocates, hospital accreditation bodies, government agencies, hospitals and nonprofits instituted major reform initiatives. The Institute set a goal of reducing preventable hospital-acquired infections, prescription errors and other medical malpractice in hospitals by 50 percent by 2010. Unfortunately, two new studies evaluating the success of those reforms indicate that goal is far from being achieved.

A recent report by the U.S. Office of the Inspector General estimated that medical complications contribute to 180,000 patient deaths every year — nearly double the 2000 estimate by the U.S. Institute of Medicine.

Furthermore, a study released on November 24 by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) found that the number of patients experiencing harm from medical errors while in the hospital has not decreased since 2000.

“The problem is that the methods that have been best proven to improve care have not been implemented across the nation,” said the NEJM study’s lead author Dr. Christopher Landrigan of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

In this two-part series, we will examine the findings of the NEJM study and the cultural change among hospitals, health care professionals and patients that will be necessary to reduce the rate of hospital injury and wrongful death.

More Than 17 Percent of Patients Studied Experienced Harm From Doctor or Hospital Negligence

Researchers for the NEJM study looked at the patient records for 2,300 people treated at 10 randomly selected hospitals in North Carolina between 2002 and 2007. They found that 588 patients — more than 25 percent — had been harmed by complications from medical procedures, medications or other causes.

According to reviewers at the hospitals themselves, two-thirds of those complications were preventable. The findings showed no improvement in patient injury and death rates at those hospitals since the 2000 Institute of Medicine report.

Among the most common types of preventable harm to patients was hospital-acquired infection. Other examples of hospital negligence varied widely, including diagnostic errors and complications from diagnostic techniques, medication errors, surgical errors, nursing errors and falls.

Nearly 85 percent of the harmful incidents were temporary and resolvable, but 3 percent were permanent. Another 8.5 percent were considered life-threatening, and 2.4 percent “caused or contributed to a patient’s death.”

In the second part of this series, we will discuss how doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients can reduce the rate of injury and death from medical and hospital negligence. We invite you to visit this blog again to learn more. You may also subscribe to our RSS feed to receive automatic updates.


  • Reuters Health, “Harm in hospitals still common for patients,” November 24, 2010
  • New England Journal of Medicine, “Temporal Trends in Rates of Patient Harm Resulting from Medical Care,” Christopher P. Landrigan, M.D., M.P.H., Gareth J. Parry, Ph.D., et al, November 24, 2010

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