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Motivated by the death of his 19-year-old son from medical errors, a Texas man investigated just how prevalent medical errors are in this country. His conclusion: 440,000 people die each year in hospitals from medical malpractice.

John James, PhD., released his findings in September 2013, which were published by theJournal of Patient Safety. While previous estimates ranged from 98,000 to 180,000 annual hospital patient deaths from medical errors, James’ study provides a much greater estimate because of his methodology. By digging deeper into four hospital patient safety studies from 2008 through 2011, he was able to identify and include patient deaths from medical mistakes that were previously unrecorded, such as missed diagnoses.

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation, a collection of healthcare leaders and experts whose goal is to reduce preventable patient deaths to zero by 2020, estimates more than 200,000 patients die in hospitals from medical errors. And about half of these deaths are from patients suffering an infection during their hospital stay.

Most Common Medical Errors

Partnership for Patients, an organization devoted to increasing patient safety and consisting of public and private entities, is funded through the Affordable Care Act. In July 2013, it released its list of the nine most common, preventable medical errors:

  • Adverse drug events
  • Blood clots
  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
  • Central line-associated bloodstream infections
  • Injuries sustained from falls and immobility
  • Obstetrical adverse events
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Surgical site infections
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia

Culture of Hospitals May Lead to Medical Mistakes

Based on these common medical mistakes, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer from California ordered a review of hospital practices in her state. The findings, titled “Medical Errors,” recently were released. Her report cited cultural and procedural challenges within hospitals that may lead to medical mistakes. Hospitals, for example, must focus on establishing system wide remedies to medical errors, not merely assessing blame following an incident.

Consumer Reports annually rates hospitals for patient safety. The calculations include deaths of patients who were admitted for a medical problem and deaths of patients who underwent surgery. In its 2014 report, 35 hospitals received the organization’s highest rating while almost double that number – 66 – earned the lowest safety patient rating possible.

Health care providers must deliver reasonable standards of care. When they don’t, their mistakes can be fatal, as witnessed by numerous studies. Attorneys experienced in conducting medical malpractice investigations can uncover what went wrong and hold hospitals and physicians accountable to their victims and their victims’ families.