News Feature | June 2, 2016

Medical Error Still Poses Serious Threats To Patient Outcomes

Christine Kern

By Christine Kern, contributing writer

Study Of Wikipedia Errors

New research shows a 28 percent drop in medical errors between 2004 and 2014

The number of medical errors dropped by 28 percent between 2004 and 2014 according to new research conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). However, they still pose serious threats to patient outcomes, as indicated by a BMJ-published study which found medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

Additionally, a study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital found medication errors or adverse drug events in half of all surgeries, indicated serious risks still remain in the patient care cycle.

The AHRQ study, Chartbook on Patient Safety, analyzed medical malpractice payment reports, one of the primary mechanisms for identify medical errors, and found the total number of reports dropped from 17,641 in 2004 to 12,699 in 2014 and approximately 80 percent of payments were for treatment, diagnostic, and procedure-related errors.

The data also revealed improvements in about 60 percent of measures for quality, patient safety, effective treatment, and healthy living, as well as in in 80 percent of patient-centered measures marking some improvement in overall quality of care across the 10 years being studied.

Gaps in care also saw improvement, specifically between low-and high-income pediatric patients, with accidental puncture or laceration during surgery, black and white patients for postoperative respiratory failure, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic white adults for postoperative catheter-related urinary tract infections.

Preventable adverse drug events (ADE) rates also saw slight improvement with a 1.5 percent reduction in errors for hospital patients receiving hypoglycemic agents, while patients taking warfarin actually saw a 0.5 percent increase in events during the same period.

AHRQ reports that there are approximately 400,000 preventable ADEs in hospitals annually, carrying a price tag of some $3.5 billion in 2006 dollars.