New Study Puts Costs Of Injuries From Medical Errors At $19.5 Billion Annually

medical malpractice 22.jpgThe Wall Street Journal’s Health blog reports today on a new study, carried out by the nonpartisan Society of Actuaries, that estimates the medical costs of medical errors at $19.5 billion annually in the United States.
This blog has long noted how common medical errors are. More than half of pediatricians admit to making at least one treatment error a month. In an intensive care unit, individual doctors and nurses perform, on average, 178 actions per day and commit, on average, two errors. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine, only twenty percent of the time are the correct protocols followed flawlessly in administering patients’ medicines. IV line infections – easily preventable if the proper protocols are followed – affect 80,000 patients annually in the US and kill approximately 5,000.
Of course not every medical error is an instance of medical malpractice. In order to constitute medical malpractice, the breach of the standard of care must cause an injury. If a medical error is caught before it results in injury, it does not rise to the level medical malpractice.
Of course, catching and fixing these medical errors does have costs for our health case system. The new study from the Society of Actuaries pins the direct medical costs of those medical errors at approximately $19.5 billion annually. These are simply the treatment costs of undoing medical errors.
Meanwhile, insurance companies pay out $4 billion a year in medical malpractice claims.
Tort reformers complain that medical malpractice lawsuits drive up the cost of our healthcare by forcing doctors to practice “defensive medicine” – ordering unnecessary tests and procedures simply to protect themselves from liability.
But the costs of defensive medicine ignore an important offset: how much does defensive medicine save us by catching diseases that would otherwise go undetected and untreated? And how much does the threat of medical malpractice litigation save us by causing doctors to remain vigilant in their treatment?
Lastly, would that $19.5 billion dollar a year figure in medical error costs be much higher without medical malpractice lawyers?

This blog is maintained by the Boston medical malpractice lawyers at The Law Office of Alan H. Crede.