A study in the Journal of Health Care Finance from Wolters Kluwer finds medical errors in the U.S. may cost up to $1 trillion per year.

That figure includes measuring the cost of lost human potential and contributions, making the overall cost from errors considerably higher than shown in previous research. Study authors used Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALY) to get a more  complete accounting of the economic affect when a person dies from a preventable medical error. They took calculations on measures from multiple previous reports, including the 1998 benchmark figure from the Institute of Medicine of 98,000 deaths caused annually from medical errors.

“Then they estimated an average of 10 years of life lost for each of the 98,000,” according to an explanation. “For an infant, the number of years is probably much higher than for an adult in his or her 60s or 70s. A range of $75,000 to $100,000 per year was applied--standard values for a year of life that account for lost earnings and other contributions. Based on that, there is a loss of $73.5 billion to $98 billion in QALYs. However, an article in last year’s Health Affairs says preventable deaths due to medical errors are 10 times higher than the IOM estimate. If that is the case, the economic impact is a loss of $735 billion to $980 billion--nearly $1 trillion--in human potential.”

When calculations include patients who suffer a medical error but survive, the economic cost could be much greater than $1 trillion, according to the study, available here.

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