10 things to know about medical errors

Medical errors are common in the United States, however, they are also preventable. Here are 10 notes on medical errors.

1. Since the 1999 Institutes of Medicine report "To Err is Human," annual adverse events have hit 100,000 to 400,000 per year, according to a Philly.com article written by Maryanne McGuckin, Dr.ScEd, FSHEA, president of McGuckin Methods International and member of the World Health Organization's Global Patient Safety Challenge.1

2. There are 120 adverse events per 100,000 hospital admissions each year. There are around 4,000 surgical near-misses or adverse events, including wrong-site surgery.1

3. Similarly, a 2015 Vox article stated that medical errors ranked third among the leading causes of death in the United States. Around 2 percent to 3 percent of the people who go into hospitals receive severe harm as a result.

4. According to U.S. News & World Report, the following are the most common preventable medical errors2:

•    Medication errors
•    Too many blood transfusions
•    Too much oxygen for premature babies
•    Healthcare-associated infections
•    Infections from central lines

5. A 2015 study in Anesthesiology found that one in 20 perioperative medication administrations included a medication error and/or adverse drug event3. A total of 277 operations were observed with 3,671 medication administrations of which 193 involved a medication error and/or adverse drug event. Of these, 79.3 percent were preventable and 20.7 percent were nonpreventable.

6. Hospitals were the main site for sentinel events from 2004 to 2015, with 6,248 events reported, according to The Joint Commission4. Ambulatory care organizations were the site of 351 sentinel events in that decade. The Joint Commission defines a sentinel event as "an unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof."   

7. While checklists are often used in healthcare settings to try to prevent adverse patient events, a 2015 study in JAMA Surgery found that checklist-based quality improvement initiatives may not be effective at achieving that goal. Researchers examined Michigan Hospital Association's Keystone Surgery effort, a checklist-based quality improvement intervention implemented by many hospitals in the state. Program implementation was not associated with improved outcomes in the 14 hospitals participating in Keystone Surgery, according to study results.

8. In June 2015, the National Patient Safety Foundation released guidelines developed to help healthcare organizations improve the way they investigate medical errors, adverse events and near misses. NPSF, with a grant from The Doctors Company Foundation, convened a panel of experts and stakeholders to examine best practices around root cause analyses and developed new standardized guidelines.

9. The issue of medical errors is also clear on the state-level. According to a Harvard School of Public Health, around 25 percent of the people in Massachusetts reported experiencing a medical error within the past five years. The wrong test, surgery or treatment was given in 38 percent of the people who reported medical errors; 32 percent reported getting the wrong medication.

10.  Medical errors in Indiana skyrocketed in 2015, making them comparable to those of Washington. Hospitals and other healthcare facilities in Indiana reported a total of 114 preventable adverse medical events in 2014. Washington had 483 reported preventable adverse medical events in 2014.


1. Medical errors remain all too common - and deadly

2. 5 Common Preventable Medical Errors

3. Evaluation of Perioperative Medication Errors and Adverse Drug Events

4. The Joint Commission

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