Legal Articles

September 25, 2013

Medical harm affects 43 million hospital visits each year

According to a review of medical care provided in hospitals around the world, 43 million patients are harmed by medical care each year, with two-thirds of those cases occurring in mid to low income countries. To put that in perspective, there are 38 million people who live in the state of California.

7 types of harm studied

Data came from 4,000 articles published in the years since 1976 that have studied the quality of care provided in hospitals worldwide. The review authors focused on 7 types of poor care: harm from prescribed drugs, catheter-associated urinary tract infections, catheter-associated bloodstream infections, hospital-acquired pneumonia, blood clots, falls, and bedsores.

Rich countries’ harm comes from medicines

The statistics show that 14 percent of hospital patients in high income countries receive substandard care, causing 17 million cases of harm. Meanwhile, 26 million cases of harm were caused by mid and low income countries. Most often in more affluent countries, harm comes from medicines. This happens in 5 percent of hospital visits. Blood clots were the most common issues in poorer countries, accounting for 3 percent of harm incurred by hospital stays.

Millions of years in lost life recorded

The study, published on Sept. 18 online in the journal, BMJ Quality & Safety, quantified the deaths in the following way: “Substandard hospital care resulted in 22.6 million years of life lost to death or disability. Low and middle income countries had twice as many years lost to death or disability as high income families.” Most of these years come from premature loss of life, compared with how many years the person might have lived if medical harm had not occurred.

Dr. Ashish Jha, one of the study’s lead authors and faculty member at the Harvard School of Public Health said, “When patients are sick, they should not be further harmed by unsafe care. This should be a major policy emphasis for all nations.”

Patients should be active in own health care

In America, these results are significant because of the high number of problems related with adverse drug events. These events are, for the most part, preventable. However, they are even more unlikely when a patient takes an active role is his or her own care, according to Robin Diamond, chief patient safety officer at The Doctors Company. “Unless patients are engaged in their own health care, the likelihood of medical error . . . is much more significant,” Diamond explained.


Site design and development by Design Spike®, Inc.