Top 10 Most Costly, Frequent Medical Errors

Cheryl Clark, August 11, 2010

Avoidable medical errors added $19.5 billion to the nation's healthcare bill in 2008, according to a claims-based study conducted by Millman, Inc. on behalf of the Society of Actuaries (SOA). The report lists the 10 most expensive errors in healthcare settings.

Most of that amount, $17 billion, was the cost of providing inpatient, outpatient and prescription drug services to individuals affected by medical errors, says Jim Toole, chairman of SOA. "While this cost is staggering, it also highlights the need to reduce errors and improve quality and efficiency in American healthcare."

Pressure ulcers—the most frequent type of expensive error—were most often preventable, the authors wrote.

The other nine errors include postoperative infections and problems related to devices and prosthetics, among other complications.

Milliman consultant Jonathan Shreve, a co-author of the report, described the estimates as conservative. "This number includes only the errors that we could identify through claims data, so the total economic impact of medical errors is in fact greater than what we have reported."

The report included about $1.4 billion in costs related to increased mortality, and $1.1 billion in lost productivity due to short-term disability, but not pain and suffering because they are not measureable from medical claim databases, or malpractices costs or insurance payments.  The sum also does not include progression of an illness because of lack of care or disease management neglect.

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