Unsafe Medical Care Accounts For 43 Million Injuries Annually
September 19, 2013

Unsafe Medical Care Accounts For 43 Million Injuries Annually

Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

While modern medical care can easily be credited with saving countless lives, over 43 million people worldwide are injured annually due to unsafe medical care, resulting in the loss of almost 23 million years of "healthy" life – according to a new study in BMJ Quality and Safety.

The new report was written by a team that included researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) in Boston. It is based on a research review of over 4,000 articles that have been published over the past few decades.

“Though suffering related to the lack of access to care in many countries remains, these findings suggest the importance of critically evaluating the quality and safety of the care provided once a person accesses health services,” the authors wrote.

"When patients are sick, they should not be further harmed by unsafe care," they added. "This should be a major policy emphasis for all nations."

"This is the first attempt to quantify the human suffering that results from unsafe care," noted study author Ashish Jha, professor of health policy and management at HSPH. "We find that millions of people around the world are hurt, disabled, and sometimes even die as a result of medical errors."

The report identified seven key signs of substandard care: improper medication use, urinary tract infections from catheters, bloodstream infections from catheters, pneumonia contracted in a hospital, blood clots (VTEs), falls and bed sores.

Using study data, the review authors modeled the impact of these events on hospitalized patients around the world. To convey the impact, the team used a metric called "disability-adjusted life years" (DALYs), which is derived from years of healthy life found to be lost due to poor health, disability, or early death.

The team found that premature death was the biggest reason for DALYs lost, representing almost 79 percent of all adverse events in high-income countries and nearly 81 percent of events in low- and middle-income countries. While disability was more common than death – it didn’t account as much for lost DALYs.

The report also exposed some disparities between wealthier countries and developing nations. The most frequent adverse events in wealthy countries were medication related, occurring in 5 percent of all hospital stays. In poorer countries, the most frequent adverse events were blood clots in veins, which happened in 3 percent of hospitalizations.

Based on the consideration of all seven aspects of unsafe care, the authors determined that for every 100 hospital admissions, there were around 14 adverse events in high income countries and almost 13 in low and middle income countries.

Low and middle income countries saw twice as many, nearly 16 million, DALYs lost as in high income countries, 7.2 million. Blood clots alone cost 5.4 million DALYs in developing countries compared with 3.9 million in high income countries.

The report authors said while lack of access to healthcare facilities is more undesirable, all patients should expect safe and efficient care after being admitted to a hospital.