Hospital Errors the Third Leading Cause of Death, Elderly are Especially Vulnerable

med-errorThe third leading cause of death in America is death by hospital error, according to Johns Hopkins’ Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality. Following heart disease and cancer, hospital errors account for around 440,000 deaths each year. That means that there are more than 1,000 preventable deaths in hospitals across America every day.  Given these findings, its perhaps unsurprising that for Americans over the age of 65 – there is a 14 percent chance hospital visit will make them sicker.

Lacking mandatory reporting requirements, these kinds of errors are not typically tracked by hospitals and consequently, have escaped scrutiny by public health advocates and government officials. Speaking to The Post Star, Matt Austin, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute, puts it more bluntly, “It tends to happen to a patient here, a patient there.”

For this reason, Austin says that patients need to be aware of a hospital’s safety ratings. Started in 2011, Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades was started by a consortium of high-profile research universities and health care non-profits to assign a “grade” to different hospitals across the country. The letter grades, which range from an “A” to an “F,” are a result of different hospital metrics – including infection rates, the number of patient slip-and-falls, and the number of deaths from treatable conditions, among 24 other factors. In short, the Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade describes the patient’s “freedom from harm,” according to Austin.

In New York, only a few hospitals receive an “A” ranking. In fact, the Empire State ranks 47 out of 49 states on Leapfrogs grading scale. In Brooklyn alone, two hospitals are assigned a failing grade. In Westchester County, only a single hospital received a hospital safety grade above a “C” – with Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital receiving the lowest grade in the county with a “D.” Northern Westchester Hospital received a “B” rating, the highest.

In New York City, the best hospital for patient safety was Metropolitan Hospital in Harlem, receiving a “B” grade. However, if a patient is looking for a higher rating, then they should cross the state line into the Garden State. New Jersey boasts eight hospitals with an “A” rating – all in the tri-state metropolitan area.

The focus on patient safety is long overdue for hospitals. In 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services reported that bad hospital care contributed to the death of 180,000 Medicare patients each year. In 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety found that 440,000 patient deaths were preventable and due to hospital error.

While the grades may provide patients some warning and objective measurement about a hospital’s record on patient safety, advocates insist that more work needs to be done. At the bare minimum, government agencies should require hospitals to report when a person died because of a hospital error. Until hospitals understand exactly where they may be failing patients, it is unlikely the rate of deaths by preventable hospital errors will go down anytime soon.




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