- The number of medical errors dropped by 28% between 2004 and 2014, new research from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows.
- The analysis, based on medical malpractice payment reports, also shows a constant downward trend each year since 2013, when the rate edged up slightly.
- A recent study published in The BMJ found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer.
The total number of medical malpractice payment reports dropped from 17,641 in 2004 to 12,699 in 2014, according to the report. Roughly 80% of payouts were for treatment, diagnostic, and procedure-related errors.
Overall quality of care also improved over the period — evidenced by improvements in about 60% of measures for quality, patient safety, effective treatment, and healthy living as well as 80% of patient-centered measures.
Gaps in care between different patient populations also improved, including disparities between low- and high-income pediatric patients with accidental puncture or laceration during surgery; black and white patients for postoperative respiratory failure; and Hispanic and non-Hispanic white adults for postoperative catheter-related urinary tract infections.
The report also shows some improvement in preventable adverse drug events (ADE). For example, about 8.5% of hospital patients receiving hypoglycemic agents had an ADE in 2013, down from about 10% in 2009. However, the number of patients taking warfarin who had an ADE rose slightly from about 4.5% to 5% during the same period.
About 400,000 preventable ADEs occur in hospitals each year, at a cost of $3.5 billion in 2006 dollars, according to AHRQ.