Main » Health News News Medical Errors Kill 15,000 Medicare Patients a Month Print this page|EmailShare on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on DiggShare on Lifestream By Deborah Huso Nov 17th 2010 1:06PM
More than 13 percent of Medicare patients in the U.S. experience an adverse event each month in American hospitals, and some 15,000 of them die as a result.
The events are often the result of medical errors, like surgical mistakes or infections that have originated in and spread through the hospital. The data comes from a new report from the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General.
The report, which was released this month, was designed to track medical errors, determine their preventability, and then estimate the cost of those errors to Medicare plans. Medicare covers some 40 million Americans, most of them age 65 or older, though it also covers disabled patients as well as those suffering from end-stage renal disease.
The news is startling, particularly since the report points out that 44 percent of adverse incidents occurring in hospitals are avoidable. And all-together, these adverse events are costing Medicare more than $300 million a month.
And while Kevin K. Golladay, regional inspector general for evaluation and inspections with OIG, told AOL Health the Medicare population doesn't experience anymore adverse effects in hospital settings than the general population, Dr. Albert Wu, professor of health policy and management at John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says elderly patients are of special concern.
"They are both more likely to experience errors in care and more likely to suffer adverse consequences," Wu told AOL after reviewing the OIG report. "They have many more things wrong with them and are more likely to be taking many medications."
But as the OIG report indicates, the problem is a large one and not easy to remedy. Golladay says hospitals need to pay greater attention to errors and report them. "There is much oversight and attention to events such as performing surgery on the wrong body part or leaving an object in the patient during surgery," he says, "but little attention to events that harm patients far more often, such as intravenous fluid overload and poor diabetes control."
He thinks hospitals need to have greater incentives to reduce errors and adverse events, and the OIG report suggests that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services could perhaps create this incentive by denying payment for conditions acquired while in the hospital setting.
Golladay says hospitals also need to actively adopt evidence-based practices for reducing adverse effects. Wu agrees, pointing out that Johns Hopkins Hospital has developed a reporting system on adverse effects and gets about 1,000 reports a month, indicating, he says, that hospital staff are starting to take note and understand there is a problem industry-wide.
But as government agencies and hospitals work to reduce risks to patients while under hospital care, patients can be proactive in preventing adverse events too.
"When a loved one is hospitalized, family members should educate themselves regarding medical treatment and expected outcomes and speak up when things go awry," Golladay says. "To facilitate this, hospital staff should treat patients and their familes as partners, welcoming family monitoring of patients as an additional safeguard against poor medical outcomes."
Wu, too, urges patients and families to take action for themselves, advising them to always communicate with health-care providers about medications they are taking, allergies they have, doctors they have seen recently, changes in treatments and recent surgeries. "Patients can help prevent things from falling through the cracks," Wu says. "Be more assertive in reporting what you see or expressing concerns. If a provider doesn't wash his hands, report it."