Preventable Medical Errors – The Third Leading Cause of Death in America

Preventable medical errors kill and seriously injure hundreds of thousands Americans every year. Any discussion of medical negligence that does not involve preventable medical errors ignores this fundamental problem. Reducing medical errors is the best way to address all problems within the infrastructure of our healthcare system – lower health care costs, reduce doctors’ insurance premiums, and protect the health, safety and well-being of patients.

Nearly half of U.S hospitals were graded C or lower in patient safety by The Leapfrog Group. The Group’s focus on healthcare quality estimates: 1.4 million Americans each year are seriously injured by hospital error (alarming stats apply only to Medicare patients); 400 patients die each day from hospital error; one medication error per day occurs for every hospital patient; 180,000 Americans die every year from rampant preventable hospital errors, accidents and infections.

1   Heart Disease                                       652,091

2   Cancer                                                  559,312

     Preventable Medical Errors               180,000

3   Stroke                                                   143,579

4   Chronic Pulmonary Disease                 130,933

5   Accidents (unintentional injuries)          117,809

6   Diabetes                                                  75,119

7   Alzheimer’s Disease                                71,599

8   Influenza/ Pneumonia                              63,011

9   Nephritis/ Nephrosis                                43,901

10 Septicemia                                               31,136

Researchers at The Harvard School of Medicine have found that patient harms remain common with little evidence of widespread improvement – 18% of patients in hospitals are injured during the course of their care with many of the injuries being life-threatening or fatal. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) recently reported 40 wrong site, wrong side, wrong patient procedure, occurrences every week in the U.S. 

Medical errors have caused serious injury to 1 in 5 Americans and 1 in 3 Americans have experienced a medical error. Contrary to American beliefs and despite the shocking number of medical errors, few injured patients ever file a medical negligent lawsuit & fewer still file frivolous claims. Research supports that nearly all medical negligence lawsuits are meritorious – claims without associated error are rarely paid, yet errors never compensated for is a problem of great magnitude. Research supports patients file claims seeking accountability because there is complete disclosure omission of a medical error by the doctor to the majority of patients who have endured medical errors. Research also supports one half of our nations doctors admit to not reporting colleague incompetence or medical errors – Hospitals however, that have embraced a full disclosure policy of medical errors to patients through Medical Error Apology Programs, have found the number of medical malpractice claims and related costs have declined.

Only 6% of doctors are responsible for 60% of all medical negligence in which the civil justice system is the only effective means to hold them accountable. Alternative disciplinary mechanisms have proved inadequate – State Medical Boards are held responsible to discipline doctors who consistently violate Standard of Care, yet two thirds of doctors who make 10 or more medical negligent payments are never disciplined. While hospitals advocate being the heart of patient safety, nearly half of all U.S hospitals have never filed a single incident report of a doctors disciplinary action to the National Practitioner Databank since its inception in 1990.

While prevention of medical errors will drastically lower healthcare costs, reduce doctor’s insurance premiums, and protect the health and well-being of patients, the accountability promoted by the civil justice system remains undeniably the impetus for patient safety. The civil justice system holds doctors, nurses, hospitals and insurance companies accountable for their actions – this accountability is the front line of patient safety helping to prevent medical negligence before it occurs.

Kathleen A. Mary, RN, Certified Legal Nurse Consultant has evaluated thousands of medical records involving preventable hospital errors. Please contact her to help you navigate through the medical complexities of personal injury and medical malpractice.



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