NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 16, 2008

Patient safety incidents cost the federal Medicare program $8.8 billion and resulted in 238,337 potentially preventable deaths during 2004 through 2006, according to HealthGrades' fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study.  HealthGrades' analysis of 41 million Medicare patient records found that patients treated at top performing hospitals had, on average, a 43 percent lower chance of experiencing one or more medical errors compared to the poorest-performing hospitals.

The overall incident rate was approximately three percent of all Medicare admissions evaluated, accounting for 1.1 million patient safety incidents during the three years studied.  The HealthGrades study, which also identifies those hospitals with patient-safety incidence levels in the lowest five percent in the nation, also found:

  • Medicare patients who experienced a patient-safety incident had a one-in-five chance of dying as a result of the incident during 2004 to 2006.
  • Overall death rate among Medicare beneficiaries that developed one or more patient safety incidents decreased almost five percent from 2004 through 2006.
  • However, four indicators, post-operative respiratory failure, post-operative pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, post-operative sepsis, and post-operative abdominal wound separation/splitting, increased when compared to 2004.
  • Medical errors with the highest incidence rates were bed sores, failure to rescue, and post-operative respiratory failure and accounted for 63.4 percent of incidents; failure to rescue improved 11.1 percent during the study period, while both bed sores and postoperative respiratory failure worsened during the study period.
  • Of the 270,491 deaths that occurred among patients who developed one or more patient safety incidents, 238,337 were potentially preventable.

If all hospitals performed at the level of Distinguished Hospitals for Patient Safety, approximately 220,106 patient safety incidents and 37,214 Medicare deaths could have been avoided while saving the United States approximately $2.0 billion during 2004 to 2006.

Source: "The Fifth Annual HealthGrades Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study," HealthGrades, April 8, 2008.


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