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Most people who are sick and decide to go seek treatment at a hospital expect their visit to the doctor to improve their condition, not make it worse. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. In some cases, patients are actually harmed by their medical care. For example, patients who develop infections or those who are misdiagnosed and treated for a condition they do not have suffer what are known as “adverse health events.”

A study recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that 44 percent of all adverse health events experienced by Medicare patients who have been hospitalized are preventable. The data revealed that these preventable adverse events are typically caused by medical error, substandard treatment and poor patient monitoring by doctors and nurses.

The study also broke down individual medical events and identified which preventable problem patients most often experienced. The answer? Infection. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 60 percent of all infectious incidents were found to be preventable.

The study focused on Medicare patients and was meant to identify ways that the U.S. healthcare system overspends, wasting taxpayer money on health services that are not absolutely necessary. The research indicated that almost 14 percent of Medicare patients experienced an adverse health event while in a hospital. Doctors discovered that if the preventable errors were stopped, then only 7.4 percent of patients would suffer an adverse health event.

Beyond patients the patients who suffered and recovered from adverse health events, another 1.5 percent of Medicare patients were found to have died as a result of such adverse events. An additional 13.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were also discovered to have experienced temporary harm resulting from their medical care, meaning that 27 percent of all Medicare beneficiaries experienced healthcare-related harm.

Beyond the human cost of such mistakes, there are troubling financial implications as well. The Office of the Inspector General did an analysis of the data and determined the cost to Medicare of adverse health events totaled $324 million for one month. This means an estimated $4.5 billion each year are wasted due to preventable health problems. The report concluded that, given the human and financial toll of such mistakes, hospitals need to redouble their efforts to reduce the incidence of adverse health events.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton & Favaloro personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA), North Carolina (NC) and Massachusetts (MA), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.

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