It was 1999. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) caused a national stir with their “To Err is Human” study, which indicated that accidental deaths from medical errors in hospitals were responsible for 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year in our great nation. What’s more is that these were preventable deaths caused by improper transfusions, surgical injuries and wrong-site surgery—to name just a few.
Causes for these medical errors included faulty systems and operating processes, health professional licensing not paying enough attention to preventing medical errors, resistance from healthcare providers and organizations to efforts aimed at teaching prevention of medical errors and lack of financial incentives to improve safety and quality of service.
That news was unsettling enough, but fast forward to the year 2000. That’s when the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) unveiled that iatrogenic causes of death—medical errors in hospitals and adverse drug reactions to medications—caused 225, 000 deaths yearly. That made it America’s #3 killer.
JAMA cited the most common causes of adverse drug events as: dose error, known allergy, wrong drug/patient, route error, frequency, missed dose, wrong technique, illegible order, duplicate therapy and drug-drug interaction.
A University of Toronto study also uncovered a startling statistic: that pharmaceuticals kill more people in the U.S. than motor-vehicle accidents. Of the two million Americans hospitalized with a serious adverse drug reaction, 100,000 died from their reaction. Of those deaths, however, 75 percent were not due to allergic reactions. They were preventable.
Unfortunately, iatrogenic causes of death and other adverse events resulting from drug and therapeutic biological product use are not a thing of the past. In 2000, the FDA, through its Adverse Events Reporting System, received 266,866 reports. By 2010, that figure jumped to 758,890 reports. That may be a low figure, too, according to a report titled Death by Medicine, since only a fraction of medical errors are reported.
Interestingly, the Department of Health and Human Services references the IOM’s 1999 medical error related deaths and states on its website that “this statistic has not improved much in the following decade.” As a result, the Department has launched Partnership for Patients, a public-private partnership with specific goals that includes reducing preventable hospital-acquired conditions by 40 percent between 2010 and 2013.
They say that “to err is human,” but in these cases it’s inexcusable. Those are deadly errors that could have been avoided.