NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 9, 2004

Unintentional adverse events (AE) are unforeseen injuries or complications that are caused by the health care management, rather than by the patient's underlying disease, and that can lead to death or disability. Some AEs are unavoidable consequences of health care, such as an unanticipated allergic reaction to an antibiotic. A study by the Canadian Medical Association finds:

  • Some 7.5 percent of all patients in Canada experience at least some form of AE.
  • Among patients with AEs, some 40 percent were highly preventable.
  • While most patients (64 percent) who experience an AE recover without permanent disability, some 16 percent of AEs resulted in death.
  • Extrapolated nationwide, about 9,250 to 23,570 deaths from AEs could be avoided in 2000.

Canada's AE rate of 7.5 percent is lower than the rates reported in other large studies, such as Britain (10.8 percent), New Zealand (12.9 percent) and Australia (16.6 percent). Two large U.S. studies in Utah and Colorado and in New York, however, found significantly lower rates of AEs: 2.9 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively.

Source: G. Ross Baker et al., "The Canadian Adverse Events Study: The Incidence of Adverse Events Among Hospital Patients in Canada," Canadian Medical Association, May 2004.

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