NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How Many Die from Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?

September 27, 2013

It seems that every time researchers estimate how often a medical mistake contributes to a hospital patient's death, the numbers come out worse. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the famous "To Err Is Human" report, which dropped a bombshell on the medical community by reporting that up to 98,000 people a year die because of mistakes in hospitals. The number was initially disputed, but is now widely accepted by doctors and hospital officials, says NPR.

  • In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services said that bad hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 patients in Medicare alone in a given year.
  • The current issue of Journal of Patient Safety says the numbers may be much higher -- between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer some type of preventable harm that contributes to their death.
  • That would make medical errors the third-leading cause of death in America, behind heart disease, which is the first, and cancer, which is second.

Dr. David Mayer, vice president of quality and safety at Maryland-based MedStar Health, says people can make arguments about how many patient deaths are hastened by poor hospital care, but that's not really the point. All the estimates, even on the low end, expose a crisis, he says.

"Way too many people are being harmed by unintentional medical error," Mayer says, "and it needs to be corrected."

Source: Marshall Allen, "How Many Die from Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?" NPR, September 20, 2013.


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