Medical error remains a persistent challenge in all healthcare settings
Despite considerable improvements in patient safety, an unacceptable number of medical errors still occur at the local and national level. That’s the finding of the report released in June by the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety, a Boston-based advocacy group started in 2004 by the state of Massachusetts in honor of the late Boston Globe reporter.
The latest report from the Center, titled The Financial and Human Cost of Medical Error, sought to analyze the financial and human cost of medical errors—both in Massachusetts and nationwide—associated with services covered by health insurance.
Among other things, the report found that patients are largely dissatisfied with caregivers’ level and frequency of communication when medical mistakes occur, and that open communication when mistakes occur is linked to lower levels of adverse emotional impacts for patients.
“Our research shows that despite the investments and gains of recent years, medical error remains a persistent challenge in all health care settings, even in Massachusetts,” the report concluded. “Preventable harm from these errors imposes significant costs on the state’s health care system and lasting physical, emotional, and financial impacts on patients and families.”
The report was the result of two studies in Massachusetts, a state that consistently receives high marks on patient safety and satisfaction. Still, those two studies uncovered some 62,000 medical errors in the state, which were responsible for over $617 million in excess healthcare insurance claims in just one year—a number that exceeded 1% of the state’s total healthcare expenses in 2017.
The first study analyzed health insurance claims for one year in Massachusetts, using 100 diagnostic codes commonly attributed to preventable harm. The second took a random sample of 5,000 households in the state and found 1,000 people who had experienced a medical error in the previous five years.
“From our surveys, we learned that many of the people who report recent experience with medical error are suffering long-lasting behavioral, physical, emotional, and financial harms,” the report said. “Individuals report that they have lost trust in the health system and some avoid not only the clinicians and facilities responsible for their injuries, but health care entirely.”