Patient safety incidents (PSIs)—many of them preventable—cost 238,337 lives and $8.8 billion federal tax dollars between 2004 and 2006, a watchdog group reports.


HealthGrades, Inc. analyzed 41 million Medicare patient records from more than 5,000 medical centers across the country for its fifth annual Patient Safety in American Hospitals Study. It found that following safety protocols pays off.

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The 249 hospitals that were the most vigilant cut patients’ risk of an incident by 43% compared with the poorest performing facilities. Ranked in the top 5%, those medical centers were recognized as “distinguished hospitals.” If all hospitals followed their example, 220,000 in-cidents and 37,000 deaths could have been avoided and $2 billion saved, the report concluded. Ratings for individual hospitals are posted at


“Progress is being seen,” the report said. “We now have convincing case studies that perfection is possible when the will to change and improve is present and the effort is made to implement new practices.”


The study looked at 16 types of PSIs, including accidental puncture or laceration; complications of anesthesia; failure to rescue; objects left in patients after surgery; transfusion reactions; and postoperative hemorrhage or hematoma, sepsis, abdominal wound dehiscence, physiologic metabolic derangement, and pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis.


The study also found that:

  • Patients who experienced a PSI had a 20% chance of dying as a result.
  • Overall, the death rate among patients who experienced a PSI decreased almost 5% over the three years of the study.
  • Four indicators—respiratory failure, pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis, sepsis, and wound dehiscence—increased when compared with 2004.