Medical errors are the leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer in the United States.
However, another study suggests that doctors and other healthcare providers may be committing fewer medical errors today than in the past. This trend has held more or less steady since 2004. These findings are included in the recently released Chartbook on Patient Safety.
The Chartbook is part of a larger report to Congress issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is one of twelve federal agencies that make up the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In the latest Chartbook, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality tracked medical malpractice payment reports to the National Practitioner Data Bank. Medical malpractice payment reports are one way to flag potential medical errors. The National Practitioner Data Bank is an electronic depository of medical malpractice payments and other adverse actions against doctors and other providers.
According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, between 2004 and 2014 the number of medical malpractice payment reports decreased by 28%. This declining trend was steady for every year except in 2013, when there was a slight increase in the number of reports.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that for the 10-year period most payments were related to alleged errors in treatment, diagnosis and surgery. Mistakes in these areas of medical service were followed in declining order by errors in obstetrics, medication, monitoring, anesthesia, equipment or products, behavioral health and intravenous blood products.
Harm to patients as a result of alleged medical errors ranged from emotional injury to death. Death accounted for more than one third of the alleged errors.
Although the decline is important, medical error remains a very serious problem in the United States.