Surgical Errors Cost Nearly $1.5 Billion Annually

Potentially preventable medical errors that occur during or after surgery may cost employers nearly $1.5 billion a year, according to new estimates by HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In a study published in the July 28 issue of the journal Health Services
Research, AHRQ's William E. Encinosa, Ph.D., and Fred J. Hellinger, Ph.D.,
found that insurers paid an additional $28,218 (52 percent more) and an
additional $19,480 (48 percent more) for surgery patients who experienced
acute respiratory failure or post-operative infections, respectively, compared
with patients who did not experience either error.

The authors also found these additional costs for surgery patients who
experienced the following medical errors compared with those who did not:

* Nursing care associated with medical errors, including pressure ulcers
and hip fractures - $12,196 (33 percent more).

* Metabolic problems associated with medical errors, including kidney
failure or uncontrolled blood sugar - $11,797 (32 percent more).

* Blood clots or other vascular or pulmonary problems associated with
medical errors - $7,838 (25 percent more).

* Wound opening associated with medical errors - $1,426 (6 percent more).

"Like the physical and emotional harm caused by medical errors, the
financial consequences don't stop at the hospital door," said AHRQ Director
Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "Eliminating medical errors and their after effects
must continue to be top priority for our health care system."

The study also found that 1 of every 10 patients who died within 90 days
of surgery did so because of a preventable error and that one-third of the
deaths occurred after the initial hospital discharge.

The study was based on a nationwide sample of more than 161,000 patients age 18 to 64 in employer-based health plans who underwent surgery between 2001 and 2002. The authors used AHRQ's Patient Safety Indicators to identify medical errors Drs. Encinosa and Hellinger also conclude that studies that focus only on medical errors incurred during the initial hospital stay may underestimate the financial impact of patient safety events by up to 30 percent.

For details, see the "Impact of Medical Errors on 90-Day Costs and
Outcomes: An Examination of Surgical Patients," in the July 2008 issue of
Health Services Research.

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