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$19.5 Billion of Medical Errors

Photo of Randy Sorrels

In a recently released study commissioned by Society of Actuaries and carried out by the actuarial and consulting firm Milliman, it is estimated that medical errors, and the problems associated with those errors cost the United States economy $19.5 billion in 2008. These cost estimates include not only medical costs (which are both directly related to the medical error and indirectly related to the medical error -- including bedsores, postoperative infections, and complications associated with medical errors), but also the costs associated with increased mortality rate and lost productivity.

Milliman began the study, by estimating there were 1.5 million measurable medical errors in the year 2008. Those of us in the medical malpractice profession recognize that this number is probably conservative, and the authors of the study certainly assert it is conservative. The study used a large sample size (starting with a data set of 24 million people) and culled out control groups to calculate the cost-of-care differential between a patient who sustained error-caused injury and a similar patient who wasn't injured. The study is strengthened by the fact the data collected was "neutral data", which was collected for another reason (inferring that the data is less subject to bias then the data collected for the sole purpose of counting errors).

The main areas of significant costs included bedsores, postoperative infections, medical device complications, complications from spinal surgery, and hemorrhages. It is hoped by the authors of this study, the government will set up a mandatory national reporting system to help track medical errors. For now, health care providers are shielded him disclosing their medical error rate, and this is a statistic that will hopefully become more public over the next decade.

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