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For decades, checking into a hospital was a high-risk venture. Patients were as likely to die from a doctor’s error, a bad drug reaction or serious infection picked up from a catheter than from major scheduled surgery or medical treatment.

A November 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine titled To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths a year were caused by medical error – a finding that stunned the nation and sparked congressional uproar and hearings.

Even using the lower 44,000 mortality estimate charitably, the study found that preventable medical errors in hospitals were well in excess of deaths attributable to breast cancer, AIDs or car accidents. Among the most common errors: problematic blood transfusions, adverse drug reactions, surgical errors including the removal of the wrong organ, falls, burns, pressure ulcers, urinary tract infections and even mistaken patient identities. Many of those errors were committed in hospital operating rooms and intensive care units.

Those preventable medical errors not only claimed a tragic human toll but also resulted in huge financial losses for the hospitals, doctors, patients and their families. Lawsuits, disabilities, lost household income and productivity ranged in cost between $17 billion and $29 billion annually nationwide, according to estimates.

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The Fiscal Times

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