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Surgical Errors Cost Almost $1.5B a Year

Insurers paid thousands more per patient for avoidable mistakes, U.S. study finds

MONDAY, July 28 (HealthDay News) -- Preventing medical errors that occur during or after surgery could save lives and almost $1.5 billion a year, according to U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) study.

The researchers analyzed data on more than 161,000 patients in employer-based health plans who underwent surgery between 2001 and 2002.

The study found that insurers paid an additional $28,218 (52 percent more) and an additional $19,480 (48 percent more) for each surgery patient who suffered acute respiratory failure or post-operative infections, respectively, compared to patients who didn't suffer those complications.

Among the other findings:

  • Nursing care associated with medical errors, including pressure ulcers and hip fractures, cost an additional $12,196 (33 percent more) per patient.
  • Metabolic problems, such as kidney failure or uncontrolled blood sugar, linked to medical errors cost an additional $11,797 (32 percent more) per patient.
  • Blood clots or other vascular or pulmonary problems associated with medical errors cost an additional $7,838 (25 percent more) per patient.
  • Wound opening tied to medical errors cost an additional $1,426 (6 percent more) per patient.

In addition, the study found that one out of every 10 patients who died within 90 days of surgery did so due to a preventable error, and one-third of the deaths occurred after the initial hospital discharge.

The study was published in the July 28 issue of the journal Health Services Research.

"Like the physical and emotional harm caused by medical errors, the financial consequences don't stop at the hospital door. Eliminating medical errors and their after-effects must continue to be top priority for our health care system," AHRQ director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy said in an agency news release.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians tells patients how they can protect themselves from medical errors.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, news release, July 28, 2008

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