NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Medical Errors Cost Billions

April 12, 2011

At a minimum, high-quality health care is care that does not harm patients, particularly through medical errors.  The first step in reducing the large number of harmful medical errors that occur today is to analyze them, say the authors of a new study in the journal Health Affairs. 

Using an actuarial approach to measure the frequency and costs of measurable U.S. medical errors identified through medical claims data, the authors find:

  • The annual cost of measurable medical errors that harm patients was an estimated $17.1 billion in 2008.
  • Pressure ulcers were the most common measurable medical error, followed by postoperative infections and by postlaminectomy syndrome, a condition characterized by persistent pain following back surgery.
  • A total of 10 types of errors account for more than two-thirds of the total cost of errors.

Source: Jill Van Den Bos et al., "The $17.1 Billion Problem: The Annual Cost of Measurable Medical Errors," Health Affairs, April 2011.

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