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Health Care

Surgical Errors Cost Nearly $1.5 Billion Annually

Published: Thursday, August 7, 2008 - 05:29

(AHRQ: Rockville, Maryland) -- Potentially preventable medical errors that occur during or after surgery may cost employers nearly $1.5 billion a year, according to new estimates by the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

In a study published in the July 28 issue of the journal Health Services Research, AHRQ's William E. Encinosa, Ph.D., and Fred J. Hellinger, Ph.D., found that insurers paid an additional $28,218 (52 percent more) and an additional $19,480 (48 percent more) for surgery patients who experienced acute respiratory failure or postoperative infections respectively, compared with patients who didn’t experience either error. The authors also found these additional costs for surgery patients who experienced the following medical errors compared with those who didn’t.

Nursing care associated with medical errors, including pressure ulcers and hip fractures—$12,196 (33 percent more). Metabolic problems associated with medical errors, including kidney failure or uncontrolled blood sugar—$11,797 (32 percent more). Blood clots or other vascular or pulmonary problems associated with medical errors—$7,838 (25 percent more). Wound opening associated with medical errors—$1,426 (6 percent more).

"Like the physical and emotional harm caused by medical errors, the financial consequences don't stop at the hospital door," says AHRQ director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "Eliminating medical errors and their after effects must continue to be top priority for our health care system."

The study also found that one of every 10 patients who died within 90 days of surgery did so because of a preventable error and that one-third of the deaths occurred after the initial hospital discharge.

The study was based on a nationwide sample of more than 161,000 patients age 18 to 64 in employer-based health plans who underwent surgery between 2001 and 2002. The authors used AHRQ's patient safety indicators to identify medical errors. Drs. Encinosa and Hellinger also conclude that studies that focus only on medical errors incurred during the initial hospital stay may underestimate the financial impact of patient safety events by up to 30 percent.

For more information, and to obtain a copy of the article, visit www.ahrq.gov/news/press/pr2008/surgerrpr.htm.
To view and abstract of the article, "Impact of Medical Errors on 90-Day Costs and Outcomes: An Examination of Surgical Patients," visit www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-6773.2008.00882.x.

 

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AHRQ

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is the health services research arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), complementing the biomedical research mission of its sister agency, the National Institutes of Health. AHRQ is a home to research centers that specialize in major areas of health care research such as quality improvement and patient safety, outcomes and effectiveness of care, clinical practice and technology assessment, and health care organization and delivery systems. It's also a major source of funding and technical assistance for health services research and research training at leading U.S. universities and other institutions, as well as a science partner, working with the public and private sectors to build the knowledge base for what works—and doesn't work—in health and health care and to translate this knowledge into everyday practice and policymaking.