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A bombshell study published this month in the Journal of Patient Safety estimates that between 210,000 and 400,000 patients die prematurely due to preventable errors.

The study updates a 1999 report “To Err is Human,” which rocked the medical and patient safety communities with its findings that up to 98,000 Americans die each year from avoidable medical errors. A 2010 report from the Office of the Inspector General for Health and Human Services said that medical mistakes contributed to 180,000 patient deaths in the Medicare system alone, Scientific American reports.

The new estimates by NASA toxicologist John T. James, Ph.D. weights the average of 4 studies using a screening tool called “Global Trigger Tool,” which flags evidence in medical records indicating that a mistake has occurred  — such as infection, medication stop orders, abnormal lab results, which may point to an adverse event harming a patient. After the records were screened, physician would review the flagged areas and determine the extent of harm.

The four studies examined records from more than 4,200 patients hospitalized between 2002 and 2008. Researchers found adverse events in as many as 21 percent if the cases reviewed, with lethal adverse events as high as 1.4 percent of cases.

Dr. James took on an interest in patient safety after losing his 19-year-old son to what he believes was negligent hospital care.  He has written a book about his experience, and the surrounding issues of patient safety.

Patient harm is an epidemic. Patients entering hospitals need to be fully engaged, and accountability so that the cause of harm is transparent, and so patients and physicians alike can get to the root cause of systemic failures.



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