Patient safety researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine claim an estimated 80,000 preventable medical errors were made in hospitals across the nation between 1990 and 2010. Researchers from the school reportedly reviewed and analyzed national medical malpractice claims in order to determine that a foreign object is left inside of a patient about 39 times each week, the wrong procedure is performed on a patient approximately 20 times per week, and an incorrect body part is operated on an estimated 20 times each week. The research, led by Dr. Marty Makary, an Associate Professor of Surgery at the medical school, is allegedly the first time the nationwide rate of preventable surgical errors was analyzed.
According to Dr. Makary, the medical mistake estimates that researchers recently published in the journal Surgery are likely on the low side as many preventable medical errors are never discovered or are not reported. As part of the study, Dr. Makary and his team analyzed medical malpractice claims listed in the federal National Practitioner Data Bank. Researchers then reportedly worked to identify judgments and settlements related to preventable mistakes such as operating on the wrong body part. Dr. Makary and his team allegedly identified almost 10,000 medical malpractice judgments totaling about $1.3 billion that resulted from preventable medical errors. Approximately 33 percent of the patients identified suffered a permanent injury and nearly seven percent died as a result of the alleged hospital mistake. The researchers then extrapolated the data to estimate that more than 4,000 preventable surgical mistakes are made every year across the nation.
Dr. Makary stated the National Practitioner Data Bank was the best resource available for his research because the nature of the data collected suggests that most medical malpractice claims included are legitimate. According to Dr. Makary, the majority of preventable surgical mistakes are fairly easy to prove and generally result in few frivolous lawsuits. In addition, hospitals are legally required to report preventable medical errors like those examined by researchers to the database.
Although Dr. Makary admits that some health care mistakes will never disappear, he reportedly believes the study demonstrates that more work needs to be done with regard to addressing preventable medical errors. Current patient safety procedures, mandatory operating room timeouts, and written surgical checklists are allegedly not enough to ensure preventable surgical errors are avoided. Researchers reportedly believe surgical mistakes should be publicly reported in order to provide both surgeons and hospitals with an increased level of accountability.