Hospital safety: The latest figures

There’s a new measurement tool in town for assessing hospital errors and safety, and it’s finding that there are more errors than we originally thought. In fact, according to this tool, a third of patients in the U.S. will be victims of a medical error during hospital stays. The new tool was developed at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Massachusetts. Old tools include voluntary reporting by hospitals and an assessment method developed by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHR).

The University of Utah conducted a study that compared the three tools by using each tool to measure errors on the same set of 795 medical records from three different hospitals. The results varied greatly. Voluntary reporting produced four hospital errors, AHR found 35, and the new tool discovered 354. In other words, the two tools most commonly used severely underestimated the incidence of hospital errors in comparison to the new measurement tool.

These findings, along with an article that estimates that the cost per year of harmful medical errors is $17.1, are featured in theApril 2011 issue of Health Affairs.