4 in 10 patients harmed by medical errors in primary and outpatient settings

If you thought medical errors were only a big problem in hospitals, you’d be wrong.

Globally, as many as 4 in 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient healthcare settings, with up to 80% of those medical errors preventable, according to a new white paper released today by the nonprofit Foundation for the Innovation and Development of Health Safety.

The white paper, the first from the foundation, is being released at the group’s first annual international symposium that focused on patient safety in a digital world held at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

The white paper highlighted research that estimates that in primary and ambulatory care, where more than 8 billion patient encounters occur annually in the 34 countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, nearly 20% to 25% of patients are harmed in developed and developing countries.

“The economic and humanitarian impact of these errors cannot be overstated,” the white paper authors said. “Between 5.7 and 8.4 million deaths occur each year in low- and middle-income countries as a result of poor quality of care. When including these figures in assessing the cost of medical errors, the burden in lost productivity alone amounts to somewhere between $1.4 to $1.6 trillion dollars a year.”

The symposium, taking place this afternoon, brings together digital health leaders and physicians from the U.S., U.K and Spain to discuss the global issue of patient safety including new considerations brought about by digital innovation.

The white paper focuses on three of the most common incidences of medical error:

  • Medication errors and adverse drug events
  • Surgical errors, both during surgery and perioperative events
  • Misdiagnosis mistakes, including misidentified illness and incorrect treatment 

Surgical and perioperative events consistently rank as the cause for the most fatalities in the U.S. These, however, are declining over time with the number of adverse drug effects increasing, the report said.

The foundation, founded in 2019 and based in Boston, has a primary focus on supporting and innovating digital solutions that eliminate preventable medical errors in the U.S. and internationally.

“Legislative, administrative, and health IT solutions can make significant progress in cutting down errors,” the white paper authors said.

For instance, computerized physician order entry systems, electronic health record systems and bar code electronic medication administration systems have demonstrated success and cut down errors by over 50%, the report said.

There’s potential to further develop systems to prevent errors by incorporating features such as computerized dispensing mechanisms for patients at high risk of medication noncompliance or drug-drug interaction databases preventing negative drug interactions, the paper said.

There’s also the possibility to interconnect systems, in a timesaving and safety increasing process. Potential for diagnosis suggestion engines or mobile apps to create checks on wrong-site, wrong-person, wrong-side procedures could save on additional medical expenses and improve patient safety, the paper said.