|New AHRQ Study Finds Surgical Errors Cost Nearly $1.5 Billion Annually
Potentially preventable medical errors that occur during
or after surgery may cost employers nearly $1.5 billion a year,
according to new estimates by the Department of Health and Human
Services’ (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
AHRQ researchers William E. Encinosa, and Fred J.
Hellinger, found that insurers paid an additional $28,218 (52 percent
more) and an additional $19,480 (48 percent more) for surgery patients
who experienced acute respiratory failure or post-operative infections,
respectively, compared with patients who did not experience either
The authors also found these additional costs for
surgery patients who experienced the following medical errors compared
with those who did not:
- Nursing care associated with medical errors, including pressure ulcers and hip fractures — $12,196 (33 percent more).
- Metabolic problems associated with medical errors,
including kidney failure or uncontrolled blood sugar — $11,797
(32 percent more).
- Blood clots or other vascular or pulmonary problems associated with medical errors — $7,838 (25 percent more).
- Wound opening associated with medical errors — $1,426 (6 percent more).
"Like the physical and emotional harm caused by medical
errors, the financial consequences don’t stop at the hospital
door," said AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy.
"Eliminating medical errors and their after effects must continue to be top priority for our healthcare system," she said.
The study also found that one of every 10 patients who
died within 90 days of surgery did so because of a preventable error
and that one-third of the deaths occurred after the initial hospital
The study was based on a nationwide sample of more than
161,000 patients age 18 to 64 in employer-based health plans who
underwent surgery between 2001 and 2002
The authors used AHRQ’s Patient Safety Indicators to identify medical errors.
Encinosa and Hellinger also concluded that studies that
focus only on medical errors incurred during the initial hospital stay
may underestimate the financial impact of patient safety events by up
to 30 percent.
The study was published in the journal Health Services Research.
Address: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 540 Gaither Road, Rockville, MD 20850; (301) 427-1364, www.ahrq.gov.