Study Shows No Reduction in Medical Errors Since 1999

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine released a report indicating that medical mistakes accounted for more than one million injuries and as many as 98,000 deaths every year in the United States. The report spawned a national movement to reduce medical errors, but a new study published by The New England Journal of Medicine shows bleak results. The first large study in a decade to analyze and track harm resulting from medical care shows that the number of patients suffering harm from medical errors or inadvertent problems persists at a steady pace.

Remedial Efforts Falling Short

The study, conducted in 10 North Carolina hospitals from 2002 to 2007, included both rural and urban hospitals and found that:

  • 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care; 63.1 percent of injuries were preventable and approximately 75 percent of infections were preventable
  • 25.1 injuries occurred per 100 admissions
  • Some patients suffered more than one injury
  • While most problems were temporary, 42.7 percent required additional hospital time for treatment
  • More than eight percent of the problems were life-threatening
  • In 2.9 percent of the cases, patients suffered a permanent injury
  • 2.4 percent of the problems caused or contributed to patient death

Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, lead author of the study, says his team focused on North Carolina because of the state's high level of involvement in programs to improve patient safety. He says it is unlikely that other parts of the country have fared better than North Carolina.

Common Problems

The most common problems, according to the study, were hospital-acquired infections and complications from procedures or drugs. Among the other preventable problems were:

  • Urinary tract infection
  • Sepsis or bacteremia
  • Severe bleeding during operation
  • Severe low blood sugar from receiving too much insulin
  • Fall resulting in hip dislocation and nerve damage
  • Vaginal cuts caused by a vacuum used in child birth
  • Pneumonia
  • Surgical site infection

Dr. Landrigan says the findings are a disappointment but not a surprise. He says many of the problems were caused by the hospitals' failure to undertake established error reduction measures and infection prevention. He anticipates that progress in patient safety will be very slow until there is a coordinated effort to implement proven strategies.

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney

Anyone who has suffered injury or infection should speak with a knowledgeable medical malpractice attorney. If the problem was caused by physician or hospital error, the patient may be entitled to compensation for additional medical expenses incurred and loss of wages.