Hospital Errors – Senator Calls for Solutions

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, as many as 440,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable hospital error. This shocking number puts medical error as the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only cancer and heart disease. In response to this data, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) released a report last week detailing this critical issue and calling for solutions from government and industry.

To compile her report, Senator Boxer surveyed health care leaders from 250 acute care hospitals in California about the measures they take to reduce the likelihood of dangerous medical errors. Of the 149 hospitals that responded, most agreed on the common practices that should take place to keep patients safe, as well as offered best practices developed by their institutions that can be adapted elsewhere to create a nationwide patient safety initiative.

According to the report, the most common medical errors that cause patient illness and death include adverse drug effects, which affect approximately five percent of hospitalized patients; catheter-associated urinary tract infections; central-line associated blood stream infections; fall and other mobility-related issues; obstetric (childbirth) events; pressure ulcers (bedsores); surgical site infection; venous thromboembolism; and ventilator-associated pneumonia.

In the report, Boxer notes both common and unique approaches that hospitals have taken to help prevent medical errors that lead to these issues. It also outlines congressional actions that have been taken surrounding this problem thus far, including federal regulations that require hospitals to participate in Quality Assessment and Performance Improvement (QAPI) programs and that reduce Medicare and Medicaid funding for hospitals that score low marks on patient safety initiatives.

The Boxer study notes that reduction of medical errors is not only a critical public health issue but also an economic one. In various studies, estimates of the annual cost of this issue in the U.S. range from $19.5 billion to more than $1 trillion. In the report, the senator encourages not only hospitals in her home state of California, but across the country to use the information therein as a starting point to improve the quality of patient care they provide and reduce medical errors.