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The Impact of Medical Errors on 90-Day Costs and Outcomes: An Examination of Surgical Patients

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Objective. To estimate the effect of medical errors on medical expenditures, death, readmissions, and outpatient care within 90 days after surgery.

Data Sources. 2001–2002 MarketScan insurance claims for 5.6 million enrollees.

Study Design. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) were used to identify 14 PSIs among 161,004 surgeries. We used propensity score matching and multivariate regression analyses to predict expenditures and outcomes attributable to the 14 PSIs.

Principal Findings. Excess 90-day expenditures likely attributable to PSIs ranged from $646 for technical problems (accidental laceration, pneumothorax, etc.) to $28,218 for acute respiratory failure, with up to 20 percent of these costs incurred postdischarge. With a third of all 90-day deaths occurring postdischarge, the excess death rate associated with PSIs ranged from 0 to 7 percent. The excess 90-day readmission rate associated with PSIs ranged from 0 to 8 percent. Overall, 11 percent of all deaths, 2 percent of readmissions, and 2 percent of expenditures were likely due to these 14 PSIs.

Conclusions. The effects of medical errors continue long after the patient leaves the hospital. Medical error studies that focus only on the inpatient stay can underestimate the impact of patient safety events by up to 20–30 percent.

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