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Peter H. Weinberger | Jul 23, 2014

U.S Senate subcommittee Expresses concerns over patient safety and the prevention of medical errors

A study done by Dr. John James PhD, Founder of Patient Safety America, in the Journal of Patient Safety, estimated that there are approximately 440,000 preventable medical errors that lead to deaths in U.S. hospitals every year, making medical negligence the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. 

On July 17th 2014, The U.S. Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging held a hearing to examine the issue of preventable medical errors and patient safety entitled: “More Than 1,000 Preventable Deaths a Day Is Too Many: The Need to Improve Patient Safety.” 

Subcommittee Chairman Tom Harkin noted that about 180,000 Medicare patients die from adverse medical events in hospitals every year in the United States. In October of 2008 alone, the report estimated that some 134,000 Medicare patients experienced at least one adverse event. Panelist Dr. Joanne Disch PhD stated that 10,000 people are seriously harmed in U.S. hospitals every day due to preventable errors. 

One of the leading contributors to preventable medical errors is infections. Nearly 722,000 patients acquired infections in U.S. hospitals in 2011, and in 75,000 of those cases lead to death. According to data released in March 2014 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of every 25 patients gets an infection on any given day while being treated in a U.S. hospital, and 1 out of 9 of those infected will most likely not survive.

Another cause of medical errors is adverse drug events. According to panelist and President of the National Patient Safety Foundation Tejal Gandhi MD, adverse drug events or injuries due to prescription drug mishaps occur in up to 25% of patients within 30 days of being prescribed a drug.

Along with saving thousands of lives, the HELP committee examines the increasing costs of medical care in America. Medical errors cost the U.S. health care system more than $17 billion in 2008. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse stated that “…the U.S healthcare system costs about 50 percent more than the most inefficient other industrialized countries health care system in the world, we have an inefficiency premium of about 50 percent over the major economies that we compete with, and the price of that inefficiency is also paid in hundreds of thousands of American lives.”  Panelist, Senior Vice President for Patient Safety and Quality, and Director of the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Peter Pronovost MD, PhD, stated that “Medicine today squanders a third of every dollars spent on therapies that do not get patients well, that result from treating preventable complications, and that result from administrative inefficiencies and fraud. This is about $9,000 per U.S household.”