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Have preventable medical errors led to higher preventable death rates in the United States?

September 4th, 2012

By Javier Sanabria

A new study in Health Affairs examines preventable death rates in the United States. Here is the study’s abstract:

We examined trends and patterns of amenable mortality… in the United States compared to those in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2007. Americans under age sixty-five during this period had elevated rates of amenable mortality compared to their peers in Europe. For Americans over age sixty-five, declines in amenable mortality slowed relative to their peers in Europe. Overall, amenable mortality rates among men from 1999 to 2007 fell by only 18.5 percent in the United States compared to 36.9 percent in the United Kingdom. Among women, the rates fell by 17.5 percent and 31.9 percent, respectively. Although US men and women had the lowest mortality from treatable cancers among the four countries, deaths from circulatory conditions—chiefly cerebrovascular disease and hypertension—were the main reason amenable death rates remained relatively high in the United States. These findings strengthen the case for reforms that will enable all Americans to receive timely and effective health care.

On the topic of preventable medical errors, research authored by Milliman consultants for the Society of Actuaries  estimates that 1.5 million medical injuries in 2008 were associated with a such errors.

Here is an excerpt:

Using medical claim data for a large insured population to extrapolate to the United States population, we estimate that 6.3 million measurable medical injuries occurred in the United States in 2008. In an inpatient setting, seven percent of the admissions in the claim database resulted in some type of medical injury. Of the 6.3 million injuries, we estimate that 1.5 million were associated with a medical error… these errors resulted in over 2,500 excess deaths and over 10 million excess days missed from work due to short-term disability.

A PDF of the entire study, “The Economic Measurement of Medical Errors,” can be downloaded here.

“The Economic Measurement of Medical Errors” was authored by Jon Shreve, Jill Van Den Bos, Travis Gray, Michael Halford, Karan Rustagi, and Eva Ziemkiewicz.

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