The results of a recent study suggest that about one in four hospital patients in California and around the country suffer some sort of injury caused by either medical errors or negligence. After analyzing the 2018 admission records of 11 Massachusetts hospitals, a group of nine trained nurses discovered that 23.6% of the patients who had stays of two nights or longer suffered adverse events because doctors or nurses made mistakes or acted carelessly. Almost a third of these incidents caused injuries serious enough to require prolonged treatment.
Researchers found similar levels of negligence and injury when New York hospital records were studied in 1991. That research attracted a great deal of attention and led to a renewed focus on patient safety, but the changes that were implemented in the years following its publication do not appear to have made the nation’s hospitals any safer. This surprises experts because health care improvements like the shift to electronic medical records should have made mistakes far less common. Both the 1991 and 2022 studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Medication mistakes and perating room errors accounted for almost 70% of the adverse events discovered. The researchers discovered that doctors made mistakes more often than nurses, and they also noticed that errors were far more common at large hospitals. Surgical errors were the adverse events that caused the most life-threatening injuries, but infections caused the most patient deaths.
The study shows that efforts to eliminate hospital mistakes and improve patient safety have had little effect. Negligence and errors appear to be as common in American hospitals today as they were three decades ago despite advances in medical technology and improvements in doctor and nurse training. However, progress is possible because almost a quarter of the adverse events that occur in American hospitals are preventable.