We’ve talked previously on this blog space about preventable medical errors. The key word here, of course, is “preventable.”
Mistakes are inevitable in most high-risk fields. The medical profession is, by nature, a high risk field.
But it is precisely because we can anticipate mistakes that we should be doing everything we can to minimize preventable harm. Especially when it comes to people’s lives and well-being.
And we have continued bad news on that front.
A new study by The BMJ, a medical journal, found that 1 in 10 patients are harmed by medical mistakes, and half of those injuries could have been prevented.
It’s a reminder, yet again, that avoidable medical errors are a lot more common than we think.
“Our headline finding is that preventable patient harm is a highly prevalent international healthcare challenge which causes unnecessary patient suffering and can result in several avoidable deaths,” wrote the study’s lead author, Maria Panagioti, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester.
And it’s a problem that has been charted for quite some time now.
We’ve shown you Johns Hopkins Medicine’s research that found medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, after cancer and heart disease. We’ve also shared a Coverys report, which found diagnosis-related errors are the single largest root cause of medical professional liability claims.
Now, we can add this study to the “READ BEFORE GOING TO YOUR DOCTOR” file.
For their analysis, the BMJ researchers pooled results from 70 earlier studies over the last two decades internationally, including 33 from the U.S.
It is said to be one of the largest studies on patient harm to date.
Patient harm was defined as “unanticipated, unforeseen accidents . . . which are a direct result of the care dispensed rather than the patient’s underlying disease.”
The harm — whether drug-related, diagnostic, medical procedure-related or otherwise — was considered preventable if it was identifiable and could be modified for a different result.
The researchers found nearly half of the injuries stemmed from drug administration and other therapies. Injuries related to surgical procedures accounted for 23 percent of the cases, and infections and diagnostic problems each accounted for 16 percent.
While about half of the injuries were classified as “mild”, 36 percent were “moderate”, and 12 percent were “severe” or “causing prolonged, permanent disability or death.”
Notably, the study found preventable errors were most prevalent in advanced specialties such as surgery and intensive care. That deserves a closer look.
Now, it’s important to remember — the victims here are all of us.
The report notes that medical errors create burdens for patients comparable to that of chronic disease, cancer or severe infection.
Not only that, but they also financially bleed our healthcare systems. An estimated 10 to 15 percent of healthcare expenditures are directly related to patient harm, the study notes.
Medical errors also lead to 2.4 million extra days spent in U.S. hospitals, or $9.3 billion in excess hospital charges.
“It’s a reminder that 20 years into our realization about the problems with patient safety, the rate of preventable harm caused by health care continues to be unacceptably high, causing a huge burden of unnecessary patient suffering and even death,” Dr. Albert Wu, an internist and professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told NBC News in their reporting on the study.
So where do we go from here?
Panagioti and her team rightly point out the need to keep a narrow focus.
“Increasing the emphasis on preventable patient harm (which is the most amenable form of patient harm) is critical in terms of designing efficient patient safety strategies,” they note.
They suggest more research is needed on the causes of preventable patient harm, especially in areas such as drug therapy and advanced specialties where there is now a known risk.
We wholeheartedly agree.
As we’ve said before, our preference is to see fewer of these cases come to our office, because it will mean more things are going right for individuals and their families when it comes to their medical care.
But until that day, we promise to continue to fight for those who are harmed unnecessarily. People shouldn’t have to feel like they are rolling the dice when they go to visit their doctor.
At Keefe, Keefe & Unsell, medical malpractice case evaluation and litigation are longstanding, clear strengths. Our firm engages in thorough, careful pre-screening and pursues cases judged meritorious by a network of qualified physicians and other experts. If you or a loved one has been victimized by a serious medical mistake with life-changing or fatal consequences, please contact us by clicking here or fill out the contact form below for a thorough, informed evaluation of your potential legal case.