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Preventable Medical Errors

  • Published: 2011-04-28 : Ronald J. Bua & Associates.
  • Synopsis: Patient safety at US hospitals not getting better despite efforts to improve patient care reduce infection rates and decrease occurrence of preventable medical errors.

Main Document

According to a recent study, patient safety at U.S. hospitals is not getting any better, despite efforts to improve patient care, reduce infection rates and decrease the occurrence of preventable medical errors.

Study Finds Hospital Safety Not Improving Fast Enough

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found patient safety in US hospitals is not improving - despite the renewed focus in many health care centers on improving the delivery of patient care and reducing the incidence of medical errors.

The study examined more than 2300 patient records from 2002 to 2007 at 10 different hospitals in North Carolina. The lead author of the study, Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor at Harvard, said North Carolina was chosen because it is one of the states that has placed considerable resources into improving the safety of its health care system.

For the study, the researchers used a "trigger tool" to look for one of 54 different red flags in a patient's record that may indicate the patient suffered some harm during his or her stay at the hospital. Some of the triggers included bed sores and hospital readmission within a month of initial release.

The study found that roughly 18 percent of the patients admitted at one of the hospitals during the relevant study period were victims of medical mistakes during their hospitalizations. Of those who were harmed, the majority of them - 63 percent - sustained preventable medical errors, including surgical-site infections and urinary-tract infections.

Fortunately for the patients, the majority of the medical mistakes were relatively minor ones that were treatable, but in nearly half of the cases, patients required additional treatment and recovery time in the hospital. In 8 percent of the cases, the medical errors were life threatening and in 2.4 percent of the cases, the injuries resulted in or contributed to patient death.

The most common medical errors found by the study were complications from surgery, hospital-acquired infections and medication errors.

Perhaps most troubling, the study found that the rate of medical mistakes at the 10 hospitals in the study did not improve over time. This was the first large study in more than 10 years to closely examine the safety of the nation's hospitals over a period of several years.

Pennsylvania Hospitals Working to Reduce Infections, Other Medical Errors

Like North Carolina's hospitals, Pennsylvania medical centers have been working over the past several years to decrease the occurrence of hospital-acquired infections and other medical mistakes at their facilities. Even though these efforts have lowered overall infection rates, medical errors still occur too frequently in Pennsylvania hospitals.

In 2006, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council released a report that found more than 19,000 patients had acquired infections while receiving care at one of the states hospitals because of "inadequate sanitary practices and lax infection control procedures."

Following the release of the report, state hospitals implemented somewhat successfully programs to reduce the rate of hospital-acquired infections. From 2008 to 2009, the percentage of patients developing infections during their hospital stays dropped by 12.5 percent in Pennsylvania.

However, even with these improvements, hospital-acquired infections still happen all too frequently. A recently released report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council found that 1.2 percent of all patients admitted to state hospitals in 2009 developed at least one infection during their hospitalizations.

The report also found that the most common type of infection hospital patients developed were surgical-site infections, followed by urinary-tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, blood infections and pneumonia.

The problem of controlling hospital-acquired infections is not unique to Pennsylvania - each year, more than 1.7 million people contract hospital-borne infections in the US, with nearly 100,000 of them losing their lives as a result of or in connection with the infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wrong-site surgeries also are a recurring problem in Pennsylvania hospitals. According to the Patient Safety Authority, an independent state agency, 416 wrong-site surgeries were performed in Pennsylvania since the agency began collecting data in 2004. This averages out to more than 60 surgeries each year performed on the wrong body part - or even worse, on the wrong person. The most common places for wrong-site surgeries to occur are on the spine and fingers.

In addition to hospital-acquired infections and wrong-site surgeries, other common types of medical errors that may occur at hospitals include:

Medication errors, including giving the wrong dosages or medication types to patients

Pressure ulcers (bed sores)

Incorrect lab specimen labeling

Patient neglect

Patient falls

Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney

If you have been harmed by a medical error, including a medication error or a hospital-acquired infection, you have legal options available to you. This includes the right to bring a claim against the physician, hospital or other health care provider that is responsible for harming you.

Under Pennsylvania law, patients who have been victims of medical malpractice or hospital negligence have the right to compensation for their injuries, including for their out-of-pocket medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other related losses.

For more information on bringing a medical malpractice claim against a negligent physician, nurse or other health care provider, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today.

Article provided by Ronald J. Bua & Associates - Visit us at

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