- The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), held a hearing July 17 on the need to reduce preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals. Only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans, he said, describing it as a problem "that has not received anywhere near the attention that it deserves."
- A recent Journal of Patient Safety study put the annual toll from preventable medical errors in hospitals at as many as 440,000 deaths annually. That excludes tens of thousands more people dying outside of hospitals from medical mistakes such as missed diagnoses or drug errors.
- Dr. Peter Pronovost, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told the Senate panel that infections, preventable blood clots, adverse drug events, falls, overexposure to medical radiation and diagnostic errors are taking their toll despite advances in prevention. Other experts voiced similar concerns.
Sanders said the new research followed up on a landmark study conducted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) 15 years ago that found as many as 98,000 people dying in hospitals each year due to preventable medical errors. "Experts now say that figure was too low and hospitals have been too slow to make improvements," he said.
Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health, testified that the problem is global, but "with smarter metrics, greater transparency, more accountability, and the right set of incentives, we can make big progress."
The American Hospital Association reacted swiftly to the hearing. "According to HHS, hospitals across the country prevented 560,000 hospital-acquired conditions and saved 15,000 lives and $4.1 billion [in 2011 and 2012]," AHA said in a statement.
"The AHA’s Health Research & Educational Trust Hospital Engagement Network alone has, to date, avoided potential harm to more than 143,000 patients and has saved more than $1.3 billion in preventable health care costs over the past two-and-a-half years. By learning from each other, hospitals will continue to capitalize on the momentum of successful improvement efforts because for hospitals what matters most are healthy outcomes for the patients they serve."