how many people die in us hospitals due to medical errors

If asked about the annual number of deaths in U.S. hospitals that can be attributed to preventable medical mistakes, most hospital officials or medical professionals will reference a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine. This report, entitled “To err is human,” determined that as many as 98,000 people a year lose their lives to preventable medical errors in hospital settings.

While this report is still shocking 14 years later, a newly released study in the Journal of Patient Safety argues that the number of annual hospital fatalities reported by the IOM can no longer be considered accurate and that the real figure is likely two to four times higher.

The study, which was performed by the advocacy organization Patient Safety America, found that between 210,000 and 440,000 patients who enter U.S. hospitals each year for treatment will experience some sort of otherwise-preventable harm that results in their untimely demise.

To put things in perspective, these astounding figures would make medical errors the third leading cause of death here in the U.S., following heart disease and cancer.

The study itself was performed by John James, a toxicologist for NASA who started Patient Safety America after losing his son to what he calls hospital negligence. In essence, James examined the results of four recent studies that all used a so-called Global Trigger Tool to scan the hospital records of over 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008 for signs of such adverse events as infections, injuries and errors.

Using a complex series of calculations, he determined the baseline figure of 210,000 fatalities per year. From there, he proceeded to adjust the number all the way to up to 440,000 after determining that the trigger tool in the four studies wouldn’t necessarily catch all evidence of harm (i.e., diagnostic errors) and that many of the medical records would perhaps be incomplete.

While some are questioning the results of the study, others have made possibly the most important point: that it doesn’t matter how high or how low the figures are. Simply put, they argue that whether you look at this study, the 1999 IOM report or another completely different study, there is still a crisis in U.S. hospitals concerning preventable medical mistakes.

“Way too many people are being harmed by unintentional medical errors and it needs to be corrected,” said one medical professional.

If hospital negligence has caused you or your family unnecessary and unfathomable pain, consider speaking with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.

Source: WVIZ, “How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?,” September 20, 2013

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