Medical Error Costs Quantified

Preventable medical errors add extremely high costs to the healthcare provided in Georgia and across the United States. The Society of Actuaries, the largest professional organization dedicated to supporting 21,000 members in the United States and Canada, recently commissioned a study to assign a cost to these medical errors.
The study defined measureable costs of medical errors to include increased medical costs, costs related to an increased mortality rate, and costs related to lost productivity after the occurrence of an error. Most other costs of medical errors, such as pain and suffering, which are not measureable from medical claim databases, were not included. Neither were malpractice costs or insurance payments.
An error was defined as a preventable adverse outcome of medical care that is a result of improper medical management (a mistake of commission) rather than a progression of an illness due to lack of care (a mistake of omission).
Using medical claim data, the study identified costs of medical errors in the United States of $19.5 billion during the year 2008. Of this amount, the vast majority identified (about 87% or $17 billion) was a direct increase in the medical costs of providing inpatient, outpatient, and prescription drug services to individuals who are affected by medical errors.
The study also identified increases in indirect costs of approximately $1.4 billion related to increased mortality rates among individuals who experience medical errors and approximately $1.1 billion related to lost productivity due to related short-term disability claims.
Using medical claim data the study estimated that 6.3 million measurable medical injuries occurred in the United States in 2008. In an inpatient setting, seven percent of the admissions in the claim database resulted in some type of medical injury. Of the 6.3 million injuries, it was estimated that 1.5 million were associated with a medical error.
Measuring the total cost per error as approximately $13,000, the resulting total cost to the United States economy was $19.5 billion. Additionally, these errors resulted in over 2,500 excess deaths and over 10 million excess days missed from work due to short-term disability.
The estimates of mortality costs and lost productivity were based on limited data and the authors of the study stressed that they were likely underestimated. Both were limited to a one-year period following an error, and deaths are further limited to those which occurred in the hospital.
Not only is this data stunning in the total dollar figures, but it becomes even more so when it is remembered that these errors were all defined as preventable.

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