New Data on Medical Error Rate in USA


HealthGrades finds that "medical mistakes still occur at an alarming rate."

The sixth annual HealthGrades study of patient safety in US hospitals, released on April 7, 2009, found that more than 92,000 potentially preventable medical errors occurred between 2005-2007. HealthGrades used a Medicare database to examine 15 patient safety indicators at just under 5000 hospitals. More than 913,000 safety events occurred among an estimated 38 million patients admitted to the hospitals. One in ten of these events were classified as potentially lethal. Patients treated at top-performing hospitals (those meeting criteria for the HealthGrades Patient Safety Excellence AwardTM) had a 43% lower chance of experiencing one or more medical errors compared to the poorest-performing hospitals. Eight patient safety indicators showed improvement while seven indicators worsened in 2007 compared to 2005. Indicators with worse scores included decubitus ulcer, sepsis, respiratory failure, deep vein thrombosis, and pulmonary embolism.

The HealthGrades report has received considerable media attention, and with online posting, has generated a number of responses. A common comment is that medical errors should be declining in both their frequency and severity. Nurses posting comments aren't surprised by the findings; in fact, some have written that they "saw this coming" and attribute the HealthGrades findings to higher patient acuity and understaffing. Hopefully, this report will prompt hospitals (especially poorer performing hospitals) to re-examine their patient safety programs.


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