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Preventable postoperative complications and death contributing to high figures

Research performed by the U.S. government’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has analyzed data on 18 complications that were sometimes caused by medical errors and the results were shocking. The agency found the medical errors contribute to 2.4 million extra days spent in the hospital every year. Over 32,000 U.S. hospital deaths and over $9 billion in extra costs a year are attributed to postoperative infections and surgical wounds that accidentally reopen, and other preventable complications.

Even more startling is that the finding greatly underestimates the problem because many unreported medical mistakes and complications occur. This recent study based its data from 994 hospitals nationwide in 2000 and provides a more in depth look at specific complications and its costs. The majority of the 18 complications included medical objects left inside patients following surgery, an obvious preventable error.

Found to be the most serious complication was post-surgery sepsis that occurred in 2,592 patients, costing an extra $57,727 per patient, 11 extra days of hospitalization, and a 22% increased risk of death. The most serious complication following sepsis was surgical wound openings, costing an extra $40,323 in extra costs, nine extra days of hospitalization, and nearly 10% higher death rate.

The study was published in the October 8, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association. According to Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center doctors, “given their staggering magnitude, these estimates are clearly sobering,” (UT, 10/8/03).

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