An Epidemic of Medical Error
n 1999, a report by the prestigious Institute of Medicine was reissued. Five years earlier, when the report was initially released, researchers at IOM thought the statistics would be a wake up call to the healthcare industry. It was met with silence. In 1999, that same report was reissued to catch public attention to the preventable dangers the consumer faces in our nation's hospitals. More silence. For five years, the medical industry attacked the findings. Since that time, more studies have not only confirmed the grim facts but some analyses have increased the number of preventable deaths to 200,000.
The Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 individuals die each year because of medical error. HealthGrades, in summer 2004, indicated that this number could be as high as 200,000. It is more important than ever that patients work together to strengthen, not diminish, consumer and patient protections.
Although the Institute of Medicine first issued its report ten years ago, the Kaiser family Foundation and Harvard reported in November that very little action has been taken to correct the numbers of errors that happen within our hospitals. Fully 78% of the American people believe that the quality of health care has stayed the same or worsened over the past five years. One in three patients have experienced a medical error.
What are these mistakes and why are they not being addressed?
Hospital Acquired Infection
Last year, Pennsylvania became the first state to collect data on hospital-acquired infections. Pennsylvania put hard numbers on a troubling phenomenon that until now has only been estimated. Even so, the infection rate and cost is probably much higher because of underreporting by most, if not all, hospitals. The actual cost could be as high as 115,000 infections, based on billing claims hospitals have submitted to insurers. However, 12,000 contracted infections during hospitals stays in 2004 were substantiated costing an extra $2 billion in care and at least 15,000 preventable deaths. There are known solutions that are not implemented.
Pennsylvania is four percent of the US population which means there may be an additional 100 people dying per day nationwide because of hospital-acquired infections. That comes to an additional $50 billion in medical charges in the US annually. Pennsylvania began last year to require every acute care hospital to report the number of infections contracted in the hospital in four major categories: surgical, bloodstream, pneumonia and urinary tract. The average cost to treat a Pennsylvania hospital patient who developed an infection was $29,000, compared to $8,300 for those patients who did not. Each quarter, the number of reported infections went up and that trend will continue in 2005 as more and more hospitals realize they need to come into compliance in the State.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia cases at Virginia Mason Medical Center were reduced through simple steps such as keeping the patient's head elevated and insuring the patient breathes independently for at least a few minutes each day. Experts in the field say the simplest remedy for reducing infection is hand washing. Several other States, including Virginia, have passed laws requiring similar reporting by hospitals.
Hospital-acquired infections kill as many patients as AIDS, breast cancer and automobile accidents combined. Many infections can no longer be cured with common antibiotics.
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