Patients Harmed During Hospital Stays

However we wind up in the hospital, we expect our doctors to help us heal and get back on our feet. But new research from the Department of Health and Human Services notes that many patients are actually harmed by physicians and hospital staff during their stay.

According to the DHHS Office of the Inspector General's report, 13.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an "adverse event" during their hospital stay. The study defines an adverse event as any type of "harm to a patient as a result of medical care." A New York Times summary of the report states that the adverse events add over $4.4 billion a year to health care costs and contribute to the deaths of over 180,000 people annually.

The October Study

To conduct the study, researchers reviewed 780 randomly selected Medicare patients discharged from the hospital during October 2008. The level of harm and whether the harm was preventable were also considered by the researchers. The results found that approximately one in seven patients was harmed during their stay. For the nearly one million Medicare patients discharged in October 2008, this translates into 134,000 preventable injuries.

The Times summary notes that while hospital acquired infections act as a major source of the problem, other conditions occurred more frequently. Medication errors were the most common mistake, occurring in 31 percent of the cases, followed by errors related to patient care at 28 percent. Events related to surgery or other procedures and events related to infection were the other main categories of mistakes.

The report found that an additional 13.5 percent experienced temporary harms or harms that require hospital intervention but did not require an extended stay. But 28 percent of patients who experienced an adverse event experienced a temporary harm as well. Researchers also found that 44 percent of all adverse and temporary harm events were preventable.

One of the more troubling findings in the study centered on the number of Medicare beneficiaries who were harmed in a manner that caused or contributed to their deaths. According to the study, 1.5 percent of all Medicare patients, or approximately 15,000 patients during the study period, were harmed in this way.

Reducing Mistakes

The report also made several recommendations for decreasing the incidence of hospital errors and mistakes, including broadening the definition of an adverse event. This would help set priorities for research and provide a uniform set of guidelines for reporting purposes, resulting in a more accurate account of the problem. Identifying incentives for hospitals to avoid adverse events is also key to reducing errors.

Getting Help

Despite efforts to improve safety and by doctors and hospitals, medical mistakes still occur at an alarming rate. For those who have been injured by acts of medical malpractice or a doctor's negligence, it is important to work with an experienced attorney.