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Do 44,000-98,000 people really die each year from medical errors?

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Do 44,000-98,000 people really die each year from medical errors?

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Deaths from medical errors are compared to plane crashes

You may have heard the statistic that 44,000 to 98,000 people die each year from medical errors. An often used comparison: this is the equivalent of one jumbo jet crashing every 2 days for a year.

Did you know those numbers are FALSE? Those numbers are way too low! Let me set the record straight. First, the numbers came from the Harvard Practice Study, which looked at 30,000 New York State hospital records. The study did not include deaths caused by care in nursing homes, doctor’s offices, outpatient surgery centers, and other non-hospital sites.

The study also did not include errors that were not documented in the medical record. Even the physician who led the study said “that if we watched people delivering medical care, we’d see up to 17% of care involved errors”. That same Harvard Practice Group study was done using 1980’s medical records but wasn’t published until 1991. So that report, which is still being cited by the medical profession and media sources, only reported partial information “at best” and is now well over 20 years old. Any information contained in it is severely outdated! Health care is even more complex today which means it provides many more opportunities for medical mistakes and errors.

The original studies are found at the link below: Incidence of Adverse Events and Negligence in Hospitalized Patients — Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study I
Troyen A. Brennan, M.P.H., M.D., J.D., Lucian L. Leape, M.D., Nan M. Laird, Ph.D., et al, New England Journal of Medicine 1991; 324:370-376
The Nature of Adverse Events in Hospitalized Patients – Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study I, Lucian Leape MD and others

See the full text articles at February 7, 1991

A study released in November 2010 by the Office of Inspector General confirmed that about 180,000 Medicare beneficiaries die each year from an adverse event in a hospital. Physician reviewers concluded that 44% of the adverse events were likely or clearly preventable. One in seven medicare patients were harmed by medical errors in hospitals. See the report at www.oig.hhs.gov.

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