Preventable Medical Mistakes Result in Harm—Or Death—In Ten Percent of Patients

At least one in ten patients are harmed over the course of their medical care and, more importantly, at least half of these cases result in preventable injury. Among these preventable errors, roughly 12 percent resulted in permanent disability or even death. 

This is the alarming conclusion of a report released this week in the British Medical Journal.

The report summarizes a study that investigated more than 300,000 patients who wee included in at least 70 previous reports of such injury.  Of course, this aggregate study further highlights just how serious these incidents are and, more importantly, how little we know about them; at least, for now. 

According to lead study author Maria Panagioti, “We need strategies in place to detect and correct the key causes of patient harm in health care. Our study find that most harm relates to medication, and this is one core area that preventative strategies could focus on.”

The University of Manchester senior lecturer makes sure to add that while the study bore an international scope, the findings are certainly applicable to health care in the United States.  

And she can make such a claim as the findings come after two decades of research prompted by an Institute of Medicine report that concluded medical errors were the cause or catalyst of as many as 98,000 deaths in America every single year. 

Indeed, the study culminated about twenty years of collective research, combining various studies and past medical literature on the topic of patient safety, particularly examining medical error and patient harms.  Out of this gallery, the study distilled a cohort of more than 337,000 [mostly] adult patients.  Out of this population, 28,150 experience harmful incidents; and out of that population, more than 15,400 were preventable. 

Specifically, 49 percent of these harms were reported to be “mild,” while 36 percent were considered “moderate” and 12 percent were deemed to be “severe.”

Coincidentally, but not necessarily correlative, incidents related to drugs and other forms of therapy also accounted for 49 percent of the reported harms.  Injuries related to surgery accounted for 23 percent. Finally, health care infections and other problems arising out of diagnosis issues accounted for about 16 percent of reported injury. 

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