In 1999, a report came out that shocked the medical world.
In “To Err is Human,” the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans died every year because of medical errors.
Some deaths were due to the occasional failure of very complex care delivery systems. Others were the inevitable, honest and human mistakes sometimes made by healthcare providers.
Fast-forward to last year, when the British Medical Journal published a paper that updated estimates on medical error deaths. The picture was no prettier.
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Strong evidence indicates the actual number of deaths per year due to medical error approaches 251,000, making it the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer.
The financial impact is staggering as well. Medical errors lead to an estimated $50 billion in added U.S. healthcare costs and up to $1 trillion in lost human potential and contributions.
Since this is National Patient Safety Awareness Week , it’s important to confront some of these harsh figures.
For example, roughly 21,600 Texans will die this year due to medical error, compared to about 3,500 deaths from traffic accidents.
That means about 59 Texans will die today from healthcare errors and another 59 will die tomorrow — not from incompetent or uncaring providers but because of complex system failures or occasional, inevitable human errors made by healthcare workers.
I’m proud to lead the state’s only entity devoted full-time to patient safety improvement, located here in Fort Worth at UNT Health Science Center.
At the Institute for Patient Safety, founded in 2016 and funded with the support of the Texas Legislature and state Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, we’re confronting these issues directly.
Our mission: to tackle patient harm by bringing together the resources of academic institutions with health systems and community assets.
Along with our founding member institutions — Texas Christian University, JPS Health Network and Cook Children’s Medical Center — we are performing cutting-edge research to understand how to improve patient safety, developing innovative educational programs and working with health systems and clinics to improve quality and patient safety.
A few of our contributions so far include:
An annual Patient Safety Summit in Fort Worth that brought in national expertise and local healthcare leaders.
Integrating patient safety concepts directly into the curriculums we use to train future physicians, physician assistants, pharmacists and physical therapists at UNT Health Science Center.
Sponsoring $850,000 in research and program development to enhance patient safety.
While other patient safety groups focus on errors made in hospitals, our institute is looking at outpatient settings.
Much has been done to reduce mistakes in hospitals, but the safeguards don’t always follow patients after they leave — even though most Americans receive most of their care in outpatient and ambulatory settings.
We hope to do for healthcare what airlines and automobile manufacturers have done for their respective industries: create a culture of safety.
Dr. Thomas Diller is the executive director of the Institute for Patient Safety at UNT Health Science Center.