1 In 7 Medicare Patients Harmed By Treatment Errors

A new Federal study finds that 1 out of every 7 Medicare patients are harmed during their hospital stays by treatment errors. These gaffes include bed sores, excessive bleeding, urinary tract infections, and mistaken medication.

It’s recommended that you bring someone who can advocate on your behalf when you stay in the hospital and to keep track of all the medication and dosages you receive. Also, be careful when they want to use a catheter on you. Infections can arise from these devices. Make sure to ask if you really need it, and make sure it’s taken out when it needs to be.

Study: Treatment mistakes for 1 in 7 hospitalized Medicare patients [CNN]


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  1. Costner says:

    Another equally interesting study found that there is a 0% chance of suffering from a “treatment error” if are never admitted to the hospital in the first place.

    Statistics are always so interesting aren’t they?

    • kmw2 says:

      Unless, of course, one should have been admitted and is not – that’s also a treatment error.

    • Gnort says:

      They are interesting…1 in 4 people lived past 35 a couple hundred years ago. I say 1 in 7 being “hurt” by modern medicine is pretty good compared to that. Of course I wish it was better, but hey…at least my friends aren’t all dieing from fever in their 20’s.

    • freelunch says:

      I would love to know what they used to pad their statistics… urinary tract infections are fairly common for women receiving catheters…. doesn’t mean it should be counted as ‘harming the patient’ given that it is a necessary procedure for many cases.

      does chemo get grouped in with ‘harming the patient’?
      what about an infection resulting from an unsuccessful skin graft?

      treatment errors is a funny category, because you could always say that it was a treatment error to re-attach a hand of a die-hard smoker, since they will likely sneak out for a quick smoke and lose their hand due to loss of blood flow… one expensive procedure down the drain.

  2. ARP says:

    Medicare is more often used by the elderly, so this advice should apply across the board for elderly patients.

    Bed sores? Under private insurance, they would never let you stay long enough to get them. (I’ll be here all week).

  3. obits3 says:

    This makes me sad. Most of my experiences with hospitals have been “bill first, diagnose later.” My favorite one:

    I had an ear infection and fainted. After giving me a CAT scan and taking bloodwork, someone finally looked at my ears and stopped the overkill.

    • Coles_Law says:

      To be fair, I think (reasonable) bloodwork isn’t a bad idea for someone who faints and is in a hospital anyway. A CAT scan though? Ouch

      • zekebullseye says:

        Also to be fair, fainting is not often seen in ear infections. It can be seen in brain infections, strokes, etc. Don’t jump to conclusions against the hospital. After all, hindsight is 20/20.

    • coffeeculture says:

      Liability. If there’s an really small chance you had a stroke or something (fainting = nonspecific symptom), they’re going to justify and charge your insurance for the procedure to rule it out. It’s that one random patient that faints, doesn’t get the scan, and sues the hospital for $$$$$$$$$ they’re worried about.

      Overkill/over treatment >>>> giant lawsuit/settlement.

      • mythago says:

        No, they’re not worried about a giant lawsuit. They’re just worried about their bottom line if they don’t run all those unnecessary yet expensive tests. And they know that if people question them they can go “blah blah blah lawsuits” and the questions go away.

        • TheUncleBob says:

          A little from column A, a little from column B.

        • coffeeculture says:

          well when one lawsuit can set you back $30M, there’s your bottom line right there.

          Besides…if an MD says you need a CT scan and you have insurance, are you really gonna question it? I don’t think so. Even then, you just fainted, I won’t believe you to be in the right mental state of mind to begin with.

          Hospitals have a responsibility to be thorough and most/all of your front-line physicians have no idea about the cost of things. Everyone who cares about costs is working upstairs in the executive suites.

          • Not Given says:

            My insurance now requires pre authorization for CTs and MRIs because so many doctors order them to rule out zebras when they should be looking for horses.

            • DoktorGoku says:

              In ER/Trauma situations (all falls to ground, including syncope, count as Level II Trauma activations in my state), the Head and C-Spine CT are mandatory, no pre-auth needed.

              In my field, pre-auths are only needed for outpatient & elective CT scans.

        • DoktorGoku says:

          Actually, when a patient faints and goes to the ground, and they get a CT scan of the head and C-Spine, many of us are doing it because it’s the legal STANDARD OF CARE.

          We have to rule out nasty causes first, like a mass effect on the brain or a stroke.

          The threat of lawsuits over it is very much real, but speaking for my current state, and being a Trauma Surgeon who literally does this EVERY SINGLE DAY, I can guarantee you that we and the hospital, quite literally, do not get a choice in the matter. The county MedCommand (run by the state) establishes the criteria, and they’re reinforced by the official ATLS protocol.

          Please tell me how you know otherwise, though.

        • SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

          both. The overkill funds the lawsuit defense.

      • Dr.Wang says:

        yes, bravo! well written reply.

    • DoktorGoku says:

      What state do you live in, and how were you brought to the hospital? It may have been mandatory.

      In PA, a fall to ground with loss of consciousness is automatically a Level II Trauma activation, and you would be brought in on a backboard, C-collar, and would get an automatic CT Head & C-Spine, along with Level II Trauma labs, as part of your mandatory workup. Any ear pathology (which I absolutely am not doubting can cause it) would be discovered during the secondary survey.

      I think it’s goofy, too, but the decisions are made far, far higher up than my trauma surgeon paygrade, and they’re the legal standard of care here.

    • obits3 says:

      I just read all your responses, and I can see why they did what they did. I guess my thought was, why don’t we do simple diagnostic procedures first (e.g. look in my ear, look in my mouth, check my heart beat, etc…) before moving on to more complex ones?

  4. ninabi says:

    Every family member should have a sheet of all information on medical history, medications, conditions, allergies, etc. handy. Tell other family members where the information is located or send copies to those who might be caregivers.

    My sister lives in the same city as my mother. When my mother was hospitalized for a heart condition, my sister was out of town and I flew in and took over. It would have been helpful to have all the information handy on one sheet- particularly when it came to light that some of the medications contributed to the heart problems.

    • LadyTL says:

      That doesn’t work so well when the family won’t talk to each other. Most of my family members are out of luck because they refuse to talk to each other because of petty stuff. I don’t even know important family medical things because of it.

      • Bibliovore says:

        For decades, my grandparents kept all such information in a a binder, their “black book,” which lived in their office. It listed their insurance information and all their medical history, allergies, and medications. It also listed all their bank and investment accounts, all potentially necessary information on my grandfather’s military records and benefits, and details on their prepurchased cremation and funeral services. Family and neighbors knew it was there, in case of emergency. Even the one estranged family member knew about its existence and general location, if not its latest contents.

        We never wound up needing the medical information, but that binder was an incredible help when each of them died. I keep thinking I’m “too young” to start a record like that, but it’d be a real boon to my family should anything unexpected happen. This is a good prod for me to just do it.

        • Dr.Wang says:

          Thank you for writing this. You have no idea how valuable this information can be for the patient and hospital staff. I wish everyone would do it. Some hospital chains offer the ability to do this online/securely and free. Even as a healthcare provider myself sometimes I cant recall all my meds, dosages, and history. Please encourage as many people as you can to do what your family does. Thank you! Just as an example of how we can forget things, when asking a patient his history, a few minutes after finishing reciting his list to me, he looked at me, smiled, and said “oh yeah I forgot, I also had a heart and lung transplant 6 years ago”.

    • KyBash says:

      I carry such a thing in my wallet at all times. It’s the width of a credit card and double folds to be the same height (giving 8 card-sized spaces for info).

      You can make one using a word processor and the best quality paper you can find (for durability).

      Mine has “Emergency Medical Information” in big red letters, and my name and address on the front.
      Successive ‘pages’ show:
      Pre-exisiting conditions (including serial number of my aortic valve).
      Name and numbers of my physcians
      Basic info (DoB,religion, names of insurance carriers).
      Basic medical history
      Emergency contacts
      Other information

      It’s amazing how much important info you can pack into a small space.

  5. sir_eccles says:

    How does this compare to non-Medicare patients? Is it more or less?

    • ARP says:

      …and while any error is bad, bed sores and UTI’s aren’t as bad as severing the wrong limb, etc. I wonder if there’s a comparison of the number and seriousness of errors, total patients, and age (young and old are often more suseptible to complications) compared to private insurance. You also have to compare it to getting no treatment or hospitalization. Remember, we have the best medical care in the world*

      *excludes the poor and moddle class

    • crashfrog says:

      It’s hard to know, because private insurers don’t require hospitals to keep track of that kind of data.

    • 333 (only half evil) says:

      “Efforts to make hospitals safer for patients are falling short, researchers report in the first large study in a decade to analyze harm from medical care and to track it over time. …the researchers found a high rate of problems. About 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care, some more than once, and 63.1 percent of the injuries were judged to be preventable. Most of the problems were temporary and treatable, but some were serious, and a few — 2.4 percent — caused or contributed to a patient’s death, the study found.”

  6. framitz says:

    Why would treatment be any different for Medicare patients versus patients with other insurance?
    I have good insurance, the Hospital I go to (one of the best on the West coast) also accepts Medicare insurance.

    I don’t see Medicare patients being treated any differently.

    The CNN article seems to be fulocrap.

    • Gramin says:

      I don’t think it is different; rather, Medicare information is widely available whereas private insurance information is not. Hospitals that receive Medicare payments are required to provide enormous amounts of data that are made publicly available.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      private insurers argue the bills more often. medicare has a set list of prices and limited staff to double check and make sure the procedures are valid for treatment for that patient or that they actually got done. medicare fraud is an easy way for some hospitals and doctors to pad the bill.
      private insurers come back and say ‘we don’t want to pay for the treatment for this secondary problem that the hospital caused by negligence’ and it gets costly for the hospital

    • spamtasticus says:

      I pay out of pocket and am treated considerably different than medicare and privately insured patients. The reason is that as a consumer it is important for them to make me and keep me happy. A specific example you say? Why sure, that would make this more relevant. Recently my wife was pregnant and I researched the local hospitals. I found what hospital was considered the best for child birth and called them. I proceeded to inform them that I was shopping around for the best hospital to have my baby and that I would be paying for the birth myself up front. The in essence gave me a proposal that was less than half of what they get from the government and insurance companies. I was even guarantied perks. It included a private suite along with a slew of goodies. The treatment was top notch. When I asked how they could afford to give me the fantastic (relatively) rate they informed me that it costs them a fortune to deal with the bureaucracy of insurance companies and the government and the fact that I was paying cash up front “gave them a lot of room to work with”.

      • Gulliver says:

        I call bullshit. That is not the way it works. In fact, the insurance companies have negotiated the rates to far lower than you can as a “self funded” person. I am sure they will TELL you that, but it is a lie. But they made you believe it, so if it makes you feel good, go with it.

        • spamtasticus says:

          My friend is one of the head ER docs for the Hospital Group that the hospital we used belongs to. He did the research for me and I am basing my statements on his data as well as about 1 years worth of research. We planned this pregnancy and the only reason I did not get insurance was that It would have been more expensive to pay the insurance than to just pay for the pregnancy myself. That is only counting the absolute minimum insurance payments required for her to be covered. She was required to be covered for 1 year before we could attach the “maternity carrier”. So basically 12 months with regular insurance then if we got pregnant the very same month as being eligible for the carrier another 9 months of insurance plus carrier. I added it all up and figured out how much it would cost me to “have a baby” Compared to that total, what I paid for the Hospital, the OBGYN, the Pediatrician ( you need one standing by apparently ) and vitamins. It roughly came out to be about 2/3 the cost with the exception that the insurance would not cover the C section that we where going to have to have (not elective). Once you factored it all it was roughly a little over half price with the MASSIVE exception that we pick the docs, hospital, and did not have to answer to anyone or beg anyone.

          • lawndart says:

            The flip side of paying your own way like that is my son’s birth. He had a breathing issue post delivery and ended up in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care) for 3 days, then Pediatrics for a couple after that while they waited for a “slightly abnormal heart echo” to sort itself out, which it did. We had good full coverage insurance so the Policy paid the about 50K in total we owed. We would have been totally screwed without that, like, all cards maxed, a second mortgage and no savings screwed. He also had jaundice about two days after we actually got home and went back to Pediatrics for a night of observation and funny blue lights.

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              “We would have been totally screwed without that, like, all cards maxed, a second mortgage and no savings screwed.”

              The thing is… there are a lot of people out there who have bad credit and no assets. They could make no payments and the worst that would happen is they would be hounded by bill collectors. The odds of a lawsuit would be incredibly low. If they already have bad credit, then several extra derogatory tradelines on their credit reports wont matter. A hospital isn’t going to kick a baby onto the street — they’re going to charge the rest of us more to make up for the loss of revenue.

            • ldub says:

              Yep – you don’t decide about buying insurance based on what you KNOW you will be paying for. You decide based on what you COULD have to pay should things not go as planned. If I had a few million in the bank, I might opt for no insurance. Otherwise…

          • ldub says:

            “the only reason I did not get insurance was that It would have been more expensive to pay the insurance than to just pay for the pregnancy myself.”

            That “more expensive” part is, of course, assuming that you have a complication-free labor and delivery and your baby has no significant health issues at birth.

        • Bsamm09 says:

          I have a HDHP with an HSA. I’ve negotiated doctors visits down and RXs down considerably. If you have cash and ready to pay they will work with you a lot. I’ve gotten doctors down a whole lot more than car salesmen.

          • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

            I also have an HDHP with an HSA and have had the opposite experience. I’ve been repeatedly told that the negotiated rates are a contractual obligation between the provider and BC/BS. Everything is run through insurance, a EOB is cut, and then I get a bill.

            In every instance, the providers couldn’t quote an actual price because they can’t pull it up until the invoice is sent to BC/BS. The negotiated rates are all over the place (up to 95% off) and I imagine it would be possible that a cash discount would potentially be less than the negotiated rate; there would be no way of knowing until it was all run through the insurer. Even with a HSA/HDHP, everything is run through insurance so it can be applied towards the deductible. In most situations, there’s even more paperwork than is required with a PPO with set copays.

            For my wife’s pre-natal care, the obstetrician required us to pay up front. The standard billed rate is $6,200 but for the prepayment, they assume that the negotiated rate will be 40% of the billed rate. We had to cut a check on the spot for $2,480, which was their estimate for what the negotiated rates would work out to be. Even the provider didn’t have access to the exact allowable rates as set by BC/BS.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        I’ve never had that kind of luck when paying cash. Typically, the cash discount is equal or less than the typical insurance negotiated rate. We have a very high deductible ($5,000) so we are very aware of costs — on average, negotiated rates tend to range between 40 – 80%. For my wife’s monthly blood work, the discount is close to 95%.

        There are also a lot of providers who don’t provide discounts because they are aware that a very large percentage of uninsured will pay absolutely nothing towards their debts. They want to maximize the billed cost to ensure a higher write off.

        My wife is also pregnant and our insurance will likely pay very little towards the birth (our plan runs about $10,000/year with a $5,000 deductible). We don’t have insurance to cover routine things, like prenatal care or a delivery — we have it in case there are complications or the baby winds up in the NICU.

  7. Scribblenerd says:

    A hospital is no place for a sick person! Don’t something like 90,000 people get hurt by hospital errors every year?

  8. ClaudeKabobbing says:

    Obamacare will fix everything

    • goller321 says:

      Yeah…. just like it’s such a great idea to do tort reform. Let’s take away the option for lawsuits for patients so there’s absolutely no reason to worry about anything other than the bottom line.

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        Actually, there are two major theories/ideas for tort reform. The first is limiting the “jackpot” style of awards for medical malpractice and use some form of actuarial based reward. You’d be surprised how well they would be able to predict how much money you had lost due to the persons’ death/disfigurement. And then maybe put a set multiplier – 3x or 4x for the “punitive” portion.

        The second idea is probably more of true “tort reform” than anything else – loser pays all legal bills. If you sue and lose, you pay the defendant’s legal bills. If you sue and win, they pay yours. It becomes a trade-off – and you get rid of lawyers who will work on contingency (“you don’t pay a dime unless you win!”). Having worked for ER docs doing their books/taxes for years, you’d be surprised how many MedMal claims are really baseless. Yet the cost of fighting them to dismissal are usually higher than the cost they ask to settle the claim (which is no accident).

        There is a burden of cost there that shouldn’t be. A third idea I’ve heard is a specialized court to hear malpractice claims – but that’s a farther road and there are more simple reforms that could be passed.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          It’s definitely a tough issue.

          It’s incredibly hard to determine what appropriate monetary damages should be and is definitely more complex than lost wages (and future wages). If a 17 year old with testicular cancer has the wrong testicle removed, he will never be able to have children, will face a lifetime of hormone injections, etc. but probably wouldn’t lose any work.

          I’m also dubious of having the loser pay. A giant medical center could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars in their legal defense. The risk of losing a lawsuit, no matter how valid, could easily intimidate those who were legitimately harmed by malpractice.

          It’s definitely a crappy situation and probably a big reason why my family’s health insurance costs ~ $10,000/year.

    • mythago says:

      You’re one of those people who wants government to keep its hands off your Medicare, I take it?

    • Evil_Otto would rather pay taxes than make someone else rich says:

      Wow, took you this long to arbitrarily bash desperately needed health care reform?

      • macruadhi says:

        Dude, our healthcare system its excellent. The only problem is funding because of all the folks who either refuse to get health insurance or who can’t afford it. Either way it is their fault for not being able to pay for the service known as health care, unless you are mentally or physically disabled.

      • macruadhi says:

        Dude, our healthcare system its excellent. The only problem is funding because of all the folks who either refuse to get health insurance or who can’t afford it. Either way it is their fault for not being able to pay for the service known as health care, unless you are mentally or physically disabled.

  9. fortymegafonzies says:

    TFA is pretty shoddy journalism. Just a little blurb about a study, no link to the study, and seemingly using the phrase “adverse event” as a synonym for error.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      adverse event is an FDA term. there’s an official form for it. i fill them out for work.
      being on “medication x” while and getting a papercut or having a drug reaction or standing on the sidewalk and getting hit by an out of control car – they are all “adverse events”

    • fortymegafonzies says:

      Ah, I found the actual report and 51% of the adverse events were deemed unavoidable — so change that headline to 1 in 14 were harmed by medical errors.

  10. sopmodm14 says:

    dang, screw big pharma, i’d rather pay for a gym membership than risk drugs and their side effects

  11. unpolloloco says:

    UTI’s are going to happen in anyone with an indwelling urinary catheter for more than a few days (they’re only treated (and reported) when they exhibit symptoms however). There are plenty of times when a patient needs an indwelling catheter for an extended period of time, so the proper treatment (leaving the catheter in) is classified as a “treatment error.”

    • zekebullseye says:

      Yes, but often they aren’t removed because the staff is too lazy to toilet them or change diapers

      • dougp26364 says:

        Or there isn’t enough staff because Medicare and Medicaid keep cutting reimbursment and creating loopholes/paperwork to avoid payment.

  12. Consumeristing says:

    I am for socialized medicine, but I’m coming around to the idea that this is acceptable only if it is run by other governments besides ours.

    • Mike says:

      For the record, the government does not run the hospitals in the US, hospitals are privately run. All Medicare does is pay for the treatment, the same way private insurance does. This study does not speak to what a government run hospital would actually look like. Nor do most people who want universal health care even want government run hospitals.

      Insurance is always cheaper when you have a larger pool of people paying into it. I lived in Canada, it worked great. I no longer had to pay ridiculous premiums for private insurance, instead my income taxes were slightly, and I mean slightly higher. And there was a value added tax on things I bought, especially alcohol and cigarettes. What’s great about this is that EVERYONE chips in. You don’t have to mandate anything. A poor person buys booze, some money goes towards their health care. I buy a new 60″ TV, some money to health care. If I don’t want to pay, I just stop buying stuff.

      In the end it was far cheaper to live in Canada and pay the slightly higher taxes than to live here in the US and pay for private insurance. And in Canada I had no co-pay or deductible. Try buying a private health insurance plan with no co-pay or deductible.

  13. Consumeristing says:

    I am for socialized medicine, but I’m coming around to the idea that this is acceptable only if it is run by other governments besides ours.

  14. TheUncleBob says:

    A little from column A, a little from column B.

  15. FilthyHarry says:

    this stat is a bit misleading. Its not a perfect world. You go into a hospital with a terminal disease, and they cure you, but you get some easily resolved problem as a consequence, its ok. Stat should be how many come out of a hospital stay with their problem worse than they went in, or a new problem that is worse than the old one.

  16. Dr.Wang says:

    The actual reason for this one-sided study was an excuse to cut medicare reimbursement to hospitals and medical offices/clinics, not to improve patient outcomes. And all these horror stories should be taken with a grain of salt because when you hear the other side of the story you find that half the blame lays on the patient for false reporting symptoms, incorrect reporting of meds used, incorrect reporting of medical history and med allergies by patients, and improper home care by the patient leading to worsening symptoms and worsening illness. It is easy to blame the hospital but half the responsibility/blame is on the patient. Sorry but that’s the rest of the story.

  17. wadexyz says:

    And yet, anyone who wants to reform health care is a socialist pansy.

  18. pot_roast says:

    Are they talking about inpatient hospitals or crappy nursing homes (which are sometimes referred to as “long term acute care hospitals”) staffed by mediocre staff?

    In my EMS career, I’ve been and out of both places more times than I can remember. There are some excellent nursing homes and there are some really lousy ones. There are medicare patients in both.

  19. RogueWarrior65 says:

    So naturally total government control over health care is the solution to botched partial control.

  20. kenskreations says:

    Please read the entire article. If it’s true that this causes 180,000 people to die each year, why isn’t anything being done about it? If drunk drivers kill 50,000 people a year and you go to jail for this, why isn’t this worthy of new laws? Or enforce laws that we have now. Sometimes I wonder if it’s the money trail that prevents this from happening. Hospitals, doctors and insurance companies donate a lot to politics maybe? I don’t know. But with the Health Care Overhaul, why wasn’t this included? Or does the government really care about you as you grow older? We don’t need “death panels” as it seems that we may already have them just by overlooking things. Comments please.