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The Epidemic of Medical Errors in the United States

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How common are deaths in the United States due to medical errors? More common than you might think.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine issued a Report which stated that at least 44,000 people, and possibly as many as 98,000 people, die each year in U.S. hospitals due to medical errors.

The Report cited multiple causes for the “epidemic” of fatal medical errors, including

    1. the fact that patients seek medical attention from multiple providers,
    2. limited attention to the issue of medical errors during the licensing and accreditation of medical professionals, and
    3. a lack of incentive for providers to improve safety and quality.

More recently, in 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety issued a Report citing even higher numbers of patient deaths due to medical errors. (1)

This Report stated that between 210,000 and 440,000 individuals are victims of medical errors that contribute to death each year.

How can medical errors be prevented?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2) has tips that include the following:

  1. If you are in a hospital, consider asking all health care workers who will touch you whether they have washed their hands;
  2. When you are being discharged from the hospital, ask your doctor to explain the treatment plan you will follow at home;
  3. If you are having surgery, make sure that you, your doctor, and your surgeon all agree on exactly what will be done;
  4. If you have a choice, choose a hospital where many patients have had the procedure or surgery you need; and
  5. Make sure that all of your doctors know about every medicine you are taking.

1 A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care. September 2013. Journal of Patient Safety.,_Evidence_based_Estimate_of_Patient_Harms.2.aspx

2 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors: Patient Fact Sheet. September 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

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