Health care providers are required to report all known errors. In Nevada, health care mistakes are recorded in the Sentinel Events Registry, which is maintained through the Bureau of Health Planning and Statistics. In spite of the mandatory reporting policies, medical errors are estimated to contribute to hundreds of thousands of deaths each year.

The Institute of Medicine published an article in 1999 claiming that annual fatalities caused by errors in hospitals were under 100,000. However, in 2010, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services stated that the number of Medicare patient fatalities alone nearly doubled that. The Journal of Patient Safety recently published a study estimating that between 210,000 and 440,000 hospital patients suffer from health care-associated harm that leads to death, which makes medical malpractice the third leading cause of death in the country.

Researchers estimate that fatalities are much higher

The numbers are based on findings from four studies identifying preventable harm patients suffered. A screening tool allowed researchers to flag medical records indicating signs of infections, errors or injuries, and doctors reviewed those records to ascertain the extent of the harm. More than 4,200 patient records were examined, and medical errors were found in approximately 20 percent. Researchers estimated that 1.4 percent of these cases ended in death.

Based on an estimate of 34 million hospitalizations in 2007, the study proposed that as many as 210,000 patients die each year as a result of preventable health care mistakes. This number is considered only a baseline that could easily be doubled because it does not factor in the patients who die because of diagnostic errors and lack of treatment, as well as those whose medical records did not provide evidence of harm.

Awareness may reduce medical risks

The recent study results are inconclusive, although the sources have been called credible by many experts. The inability to provide a solid number begins with inaccurate medical records and the reluctance of health care professionals to report their mistakes. It is important to estimate the likelihood of medical mistakes because bringing attention to the problem allows lawmakers to develop policies to address the issue.

Patients should know the level of risk for adverse events that attend procedures and tests. By raising national awareness of the fatalities and financial costs of these mistakes, researchers believe that greater transparency and accountability can help to reduce fatal doctor mistakes. A Las Vegas injury attorney may be able to help victims and family members whose lives have been devastated by an avoidable medical error.