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Malpractice / Negligence Statistics
Unfortunately, preventable medical errors - acts of medical malpractice/negligence - do occur to patients. No one is infallible - neither you nor me nor your physician(s). The Harvard Medical Practice Study estimated that eight (8) times as many patients are injured by medical malpractice as ever file a claim and sixteen (16) times as many suffer injuries as receive any compensation. (Harvard Medical Practice Study, Patients, Doctors and Lawyers: Medical Injury, Malpractice Litigation, and Patient Compensation in New York , 1990.); (See Medical Error and Patient Injury: Costly and Often Preventable.)
In 1999, the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine released a study entitled To Err is Human; Building a Safer Health System (Kohn, Corrigan, Donaldson, Editors; Institute of Medicine, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1999 - "1999 IOM Study") According to this study, medical errors cause as many as 98,000 deaths each year. In other words, more people die each year from medical errors than from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS . Furthermore, this same study reported that the costs of preventable medical errors that result in injury - total national costs including lost income, lost household production, disability and health care costs - are estimated to be between $17 billion and $29 billion annually. (See To "Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System" [1999 Institute of Medicine] National Academies Press.)
Death of hospital inpatients from preventable medical errors in the Institute of Medicine study more than likely only represents the tip of the iceberg concerning medical malpractice/negligence. Medical errors from care in outpatient surgical centers, physician offices or clinics, home care, nursing homes and retail pharmacies were not included in the Institute of Medicine study.
Newer studies by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA), a non-profit organization that monitors health care, has found that 57,000 Americans die each year because they are not given adequate health care. (National Committee for Quality Assurance, The State of Health Care Quality 2003 .) The NCQA states that these deaths should not be confused with those deaths due to medical errors as in the 1999 Institute of Medicine study. The NCQA found that U.S. patients are not infrequently receiving inadequate care. The NCQA found that this inadequate care costs over $1.6 billion in avoidable hospital bills and in addition costs businesses $11.5 billion due to almost 41 billion lost work days. These costs may be added to the enormous costs found by the Institute of Medicine study attributable to medical errors.
NCQA's State of Health Care Quality 2004 report found major gains in health care quality but for only one-forth of the healthcare system - publicly reporting health plans. The NCQA said that the broader system, 75% of the U.S. healthcare system, still was plagued by quality gaps resulting in 42,000 - 79,000 avoidable deaths, 66.5 million sick days and $1.8 billion in excess medical costs annually. NCQA said that all types of health plans, hospitals and doctors should report on their performance.
The federal government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recently found that 18 categories of medical errors, such as postoperative infections, accidental reopening of surgical wounds, and medical objects left inside patients, result in 32,500 hospital deaths that cost more than $9 billion in additional hospital charges. These figures may substantially underestimate the problem since many medical complications were not analyzed for this study.
Medication errors account for one out of 131 outpatient deaths and one out of 854 inpatient deaths. ("1999 IOM Study") Medication errors alone may be responsible for over 7,000 deaths annually. The inpatient hospital costs attributable to these preventable adverse drug events may cost the nation $2 billion annually.
See the Center for Justice and Democracy web site from many interesting and informative articles on medical malpractice.
Also see our Informative Malpractice / Negligence Links.