Preventable hospital death estimates are too high, study finds

Estimates of preventable hospital deaths may be two to four times too high, according to a study published Jan. 21 in The Journal of General Internal Medicine.  

Researchers at New Haven, Conn.-based Yale School of Medicine analyzed eight inpatient death studies completed after 2007 through April 8, 2019. The analysis revealed about 22,000 preventable deaths occur at U.S. hospitals annually, contrasting the 44,000 to 98,000 estimate from a landmark Institute of Medicine study in 1999. Other frequently cited studies estimate the number of deaths to be as high as 250,000 deaths a year.

Most of the previous studies analyzed patients with any adverse event, such as a misdiagnosis or delay in therapy, Benjamin Rodwin, MD, corresponding author and assistant professor of internal medicine at Yale, said in a school news release. The studies then looked at how many of those errors were preventable and ultimately fatal. This method could have created bias and error in the studies, the Yale researchers said. Instead, the Yale analysis only reviewed studies that began with hospital deaths and worked backward to determine if they were preventable. 

The study also found that about 7,150 of the patients who died from hospital error were previously healthy people, while the rest of preventable deaths occurred in patients with less than a three-month life expectancy.

The higher estimates of hospital patient deaths publicized two decades ago may have prompted increased oversight in hospitals and itself reduced the number of errors and preventable deaths, Dr. Rodwin said.

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