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Medical mistakes could cause 440,000 deaths yearly

A study released in 1999 reported that medical errors in Kentucky and across the nation claimed the lives of nearly 100,000 people annually. However, a study published in the Sept. 2013 Journal of Patient Safety reported that those numbers could actually be closer to 440,000 patients, or more than 1,000 people per day, who die from hospital mistakes or negligence each year.

The updated figures mean that medical mistakes now have the dubious distinction of being the third-leading cause of death in the nation, after cancer and heart disease. A Harvard professor and advocate of patient safety who participated in the original 1999 study believes that the new numbers more accurately represent the actual figures. These errors are preventable and take a number of different forms; they could include instruments left in a person after a surgery, the wrong dosage of medication administered and contaminated equipment used on patients.

As if the tragic loss of life weren't alarming enough, the costs of these errors are passed on to consumers. People pay for the extra procedures related to the errors, and businesses face increases insurance expenses. One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that an infection after a surgery usually costs companies about $39,000.

Preventing errors at hospitals can be challenging; employees don't always follow procedures and they make mistakes. However, a number of strategies for improving patient safety have been shown to effectively prevent errors when medical facilities apply them. One problem is that hospitals haven't been held accountable for protecting those whom they serve.

The findings of the study demonstrate that medical mistakes may be more common than previously thought. When a patient is further injured by being treated at a hospital, a personal injury attorney might be able to file a lawsuit on their behalf.

Source: Forbes, "Stunning News On Preventable Deaths In Hospitals", Leah Binder, September 23, 2013

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