are hospitals profiting from surgical errors

From operating at the wrong site or on the wrong body part to leaving a surgical instrument behind to making a catastrophic mistake with a scalpel, surgical errors can occur in a multitude of ways. What makes these surgical errors so especially devastating, however, is not just the resulting damage, but the long recovery time associated with their incidence as victims are often forced to spend additional days, weeks and even months in the hospital.

Shockingly, a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week made some eye-opening revelations concerning the rate of surgical errors and the impact they have on the bottom lines of U.S. hospitals.

While you would be naturally inclined to think that surgical errors cost hospitals thousands of dollars more per patient, it turns out this couldn’t be further from the case.

In the JAMA study, the researchers examined 34,256 people who had some type of surgery performed at one of 12 Texas-based hospitals in 2010. Here, the study group was comprised of the following: patients with private insurance made up 40 percent, patients with Medicare made up 45 percent, patients who paid out of pocket made up 6 percent, patients with “other” sources of payment made up 5 percent, and Medicaid patients made up 4 percent.

Of the 34,256 surgical patients studied, 1,820 were found to have experienced some form of complications due to surgical errors. On average, these patients generated a whopping $49,400 in revenue for the hospitals versus $18,900 for patients who experienced no surgical complications.

Breaking the numbers down further, the researchers made the following findings:

  • Private insurance patients who experienced surgical errors had a $39,000 higher contribution rate — meaning the revenue minus variable costs — than their counterparts who suffered no surgical errors.
  • Medicare patients who experienced surgical errors had a $1,800 higher contribution rate than their counterparts who suffered no surgical errors.

“This research provides dramatic evidence that hospitals lack financial incentives to invest in improving surgical quality,” wrote co-author Dr. Barry Rosenberg. “Policymakers talk about paying for performance, but instead Medicare and private payers are rewarding hospitals for complications. The U.S. health-care system is paying for harm.”

It’s truly appalling to think that hospitals are actually profiting from the surgical negligence of their employees — a 330 percent higher profit margin for private insurance patients with complications and a 190 percent higher profit margin for Medicare patients. This is precisely why people victimized by medical malpractice should consider speaking with an experienced legal professional who can help hold parties accountable for their actions and secure a much-needed sense of justice.

Source: CBS News, “Surgical complications and errors bring in more money for hospitals,” Michelle Castillo, April 17, 2013

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