Almost 32,600 deaths, $9.3 billion in excess charges and 2.4 million extra hospital days are caused each year by medical injuries during hospitalization, according to a study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a division of HHS.
The study's authors say their findings, published in the Oct. 8 Journal of the American Medical Association, represent "only the tip of the iceberg" given the limited number of conditions examined.
The study analyzes the costs associated with each of 18 complications or "patient safety indicators" identified by AHRQ as sometimes caused by medical errors. Information was culled from administrative data at 994 hospitals in 28 states in 2000, a sample of about 20% of the nation's hospitals.
The impact and seriousness of the complications varies widely, say the researchers, led by Chunliu Zhan, M.D., of AHRQ and Marlene Miller, M.D., of Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore.
Sepsis, or postoperative bloodstream infection, was the most serious complication, adding costs of $57,727, causing hospital stays almost 11 days longer than normal and adding a 22% increased risk of death after surgery, the study finds. The researchers estimate as many as 3,000 people die each year from such blood infections.
The reopening of surgical incisions was the second most serious event, causing an estimated 405 deaths annually. Birth trauma, a common injury with 51,223 incidents studied, resulted in almost no deaths or extra hospitalization costs.
"The message here is that medical injuries can have a devastating impact on the healthcare system," says Zhan in a written statement. "We need more research to identify why these injuries occur and find ways to prevent them from happening."