Medical errors: Pressure ulcers and postop infections top $19.5 billion list

Approximately 1.5 million measurable medical errors (out of a total 6.3 million measurable medical injuries) leached $19.5 billion from the American economy in 2008, representing an average total cost per error of $13,000, according to a new analysis of insurance claims data completed by the consulting firm Milliman for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based Society of Actuaries (SOA). "Of the $19.5 billion in total costs, approximately $17 billion was the result of providing inpatient, outpatient and prescription drug services to individuals who were affected by medical errors, said Jim Toole, FSA, CERA, MAAA and managing director of MBA Actuaries. "While this cost is staggering, it also highlights the need to reduce errors and improve quality and efficiency in American healthcare."

The study estimated that 7 percent of inpatient admissions result in a medical injury, with 1.7 percent of admission resulting in medical error. Measurable medical errors caused more than 2,500 avoidable deaths and more than 10 million missed workdays.

Five common medical errors accounted for 55 percent of total medical error costs in 2008:

  • Pressure ulcers, $3.86 billion ($10,288 total cost per error);
  • Postoperative infections, $3.66 billion ($14,548 per error);
  • Mechanical complications of devices, implants, or grafts, $1.13 billion ($18,771 per error);
  • Postlaminectomy syndrome, $1.12 billion ($9,863 per error)
  • Hemorrhages complicating a procedure, $960 million (12,272 per error).

Rounding out the top 10 medical errors (in descending order) were: infection following infusion, injection, transfusion, or vaccination; pneumothorax; infection due to central venous catheter; other complications of internal (biological) (synthetic) prosthetic device, implant, and graft; and ventral hernia without mention of obstruction or gangrene.

To learn more:
- read the SOA press release
- read the SOA report
- read this Wall Street Journal blog post
- read this report from The Hill

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