Top 10 Most Costly, Frequent Medical Errors

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , August 11, 2010

The report's executive summary estimates that an even greater number, 6.3 million medical injuries, occurred in the U.S. in 2008. Of those, 1.5 million were associated with a medical error.

The authors evaluated each medical injury and estimated the likelihood that such an injury was caused by a medical error rather than the result of medical treatment.

"We measured the total cost per error as approximately $13,000, resulting in a total cost to the United States economy of $19.5 billion," the authors wrote.

"Additionally, these errors resulted in over 2,500 excess deaths and over 10 million excess days missed from work due to short-term disability."

The report also detailed that claims from inpatient billings revealed that 7% of admissions resulted in some type of medical injury.

The authors called on the insurance industry, which it said had previously had "low visibility" in its involvement with quality improvement initiatives, "to assume an active role by helping healthcare systems implement an actuarial approach, which can more systematically identify potential causes of medical errors than alternative approaches."

The report listed the 10 most expensive types of errors in 2008, the number of errors, the cost per error, and the total cost. The first five make up 55% of the total error costs.

The list is as follows:

    1. Pressure ulcers—374,964 errors, $10,288 per error and $3.858 billion total.
    2. Postoperative infections—252,695 errors, $14,548 per error, $3.676 billion total.
    3. Mechanical complication of a device, implant or graft—60,380 errors, $18,771 per error, $1.133 billion total.
    4. Postlaminectomy syndrome—113,823 errors, $9,863 per error, $1.123 billion total.
    5. Hemorrhage complicating a procedure—78,216 errors, $12,272 per error, $960 million total.
    6. Infection following infusion, injection, transfusion, vaccination—8,855 errors, $78,083 per error, $691 million total.
    7. Pneumothorax—25,559 errors, $24,132 per error, $617 million total.
    8. Infection due to central venous catheter—7,062 errors, $83,365 per error, $589 million total.
    9. Other complicaitons of internal (biological) (synthetic) prosthetic device, implant and graft—26,783 errors, $17,233 per error and $462 million total.
    10. Ventral hernia without mention of obstruction or gangrene—53,810 errors, $8,178 per error and $440 million total.


The report also lists the most frequent medical errors.

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Comments are moderated. Please be patient.

2 comments on "Top 10 Most Costly, Frequent Medical Errors"

William J. Walsh (12/20/2010 at 11:32 AM)
I agree - most of these are bad outcome data with a presumption of an error behind it. For example: 1. Postoperative shock - if the patient had trauma prior to surgery, or the patient had a large surgery (lung, heart, liver transplant, CABG), it may be expected to have shock postoperatively. 2. Infection due to central venous catheter. These really should be mostly avoidable. 5.Complications of transplanted organ[INVALID] how is this due to error? Inexact science and error are not the same thing. 9. Infusion or transfusion reaction[INVALID] if this is all due to mismatched product, ok... but otherwise TRALI is not predictable. The gastric bipass complication rate seems to be 4 of the 10 high risk complications... why not list this as one item?

gzuckier (12/9/2010 at 10:01 AM)
Eh? Most of these are neither errors, nor avoidable; unless there is quite a bit more in the study than is being represented here.




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