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Sunday, July 2, 2023

Predictable, preventable medical errors kill thousands yearly. Is it getting any better?

Karen Weintraub
Originally posted 3 May 23

Here are two excerpts:

A 2017 study put the figure at over 250,000 a year, making medical errors the nation's third leading cause of death at the time. There are no more recent figures.

But the pandemic clearly worsened patient safety, with Leapfrog's new assessment showing increases in hospital-acquired infections, including urinary tract and drug-resistant staph infections as well as infections in central lines ‒ tubes inserted into the neck, chest, groin, or arm to rapidly provide fluids, blood or medications. These infections spiked to a 5-year high during the pandemic and remain high.

"Those are really terrible declines in performance," Binder said.

Patient safety: 'I've never ever, ever seen that'

Not all patient safety news is bad. In one study published last year, researchers examined records from 190,000 patients discharged from hospitals nationwide after being treated for a heart attack, heart failure, pneumonia or major surgery. Patients saw far fewer bad events following treatment for those four conditions, as well as for adverse events caused by medications, hospital-acquired infections, and other factors.

It was the first study of patient safety that left Binder optimistic. "This was improvement and I've never ever, ever seen that," she said.


On any given day now, 1 of every 31 hospitalized patients acquires an infection while hospitalized, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This costs health care systems at least $28.4 billion each year and accounts for an additional $12.4 billion from lost productivity and premature deaths.

"That blew me away," said Shaunte Walton, system director of Clinical Epidemiology & Infection Prevention at UCLA Health. Electronic tools can help, but even with them, "there's work to do to try to operationalize them," she said.

The patient experience also slipped during the pandemic. According to Leapfrog's latest survey, patients reported declines in nurse communication, doctor communication, staff responsiveness, communication about medicine and discharge information.

Boards and leadership teams are "highly distracted" right now with workforce shortages, new payment systems, concerns about equity and decarbonization, said Dr. Donald Berwick, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and former administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.