Medical errors kill thousands each year

Posted by Emma Woollacott

New York - As many as 200,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical mistakes and hospital infections, according to a report from the Hearst Corporation.


The Dead By Mistake report concludes that a staggering 98,000 Americans die from preventable medical errors each year and just as many from hospital-acquired infections.


Ten years ago, a highly-publicized federal report, To Err Is Human, highlighted the alarming death toll from preventable medical injuries and called on the medical community to cut it in half in five years. Its authors and patient safety advocates believed that its release would spur a revolution in patient safety.


But Hearst's report finds that the federal government and most states have made little or no progress in improving patient safety through accountability mechanisms or other measures. According to the Hearst investigation, special interests worked to ensure that the key recommendations in the report - most notably a mandatory national reporting system for medical errors - were never implemented.


Apparently, an extraordinary 20 states have no medical error reporting at all, five states have voluntary reporting systems and five are developing reporting systems. Of the 20 states that require medical error reporting, hospitals report only a tiny percentage of their mistakes, standards vary wildly and enforcement is often nonexistent.
 
In terms of public disclosure, 45 states currently do not release hospital-specific information. Only 17 states have systematic adverse-event reporting systems that are transparent enough to be useful to consumers, and the national patient-safety center is underfunded and has fallen far short of expectations.


"More people die each month of preventable medical injuries than died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001," Hearst Newspapers Editor-at-Large Phil Bronstein, who oversaw the project, said. "The annual medical error death toll is higher than that for fatal car crashes."


The investigation used the reporting resources of seven Hearst newspapers - the San Francisco Chronicle, Albany Times Union, San Antonio Express-News, Houston Chronicle, Greenwich Time, Stamford Advocate and the Connecticut Post - as well as SeattlePI.com and Hearst Television.