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Fatalities from hospital mistakes may be underestimated: Part One

It may seem like an old trope at this point to say that the most dangerous place for a sick person is a hospital. This has been said many times before when reports show the high rates of contagious illnesses in hospitals as well as the harm patients are exposed to as a result of simple mistakes that can occur in the hectic setting. However, a new study shows that the rate of deaths associated with a medical mistake are double the previous estimates. 

A study by a government agency conducted in 2010 found that 180,000 patients in the Medicare system died as a result of a sub-par hospital care. A new study indicates that the number is much higher - between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year. If these numbers are accurate, then hospital errors would be the third-leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. 

One of the big barriers to fixing this huge problem is that there has been no widespread data collection on the issue. Much of what we know about hospital errors comes from Medicaid and Medicare, since the government already collects data on treatment and outcomes for the patients it insures. Experts say that an accurate count rather than educated estimates are needed to assess the magnitude of the problem and start working towards a solution. 

In our next post, we'll discuss the link between hospital mistake fatalities and wrongful deaths that can occur as a result of medical malpractice.

Source: Idea Stream, “How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals,” Sept. 20, 2013

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