Avoidable surgery mistakes cost nearly $1.5 billion annually

Donald Saiontz

By Donald Saiontz
Posted August 3, 2008


New government estimates from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) indicate that avoidable surgery mistakes cost employers nearly $1.5 billion each year. According to the data, about 10% of all deaths that occur within 90 days of surgery are caused by preventable surgical errors.

>>INFORMATION: Medical Malpractice

The study, which was published in the July 28 issue of the journal Health Services Research, involved a review of data for over 161,000 individuals who underwent surgery between 2001 and 2002. All of the patients were between 18 and 64 years old, and they were insured by employer-based health plans.

The researchers used AHRQ’s Patient Safety Indicators to identify preventable medical errors that occurred and then evaluated the additional costs incurred by the insurers who paid to treat the patients, as compared to those who did not experience an error. Some of the findings include:

  • Acute respiratory failure resulted in an additional $28,218 in paid medical expenses for surgical patients (52% more)
  • Post-operative infections resulted in an additional $19,480 (48% more)
  • Errors related to nursing care, such as hip fractures and bedsores resulted in an additional $12,196 (33% more)
  • Metabolic problems including uncontrolled blood sugar or kidney failure resulted in an additional $11,797 (32% more)
  • Vascular or pulmonary related errors resulted in an additional $7,838 (25% more)
  • Wound openings associate with medical errors resulted in an additional $1,426 (6% more)

The study also found that approximately 1 out of every 10 patients who died within 90 days after surgery experienced a preventable surgery mistake, and about a third of those deaths occurred after the patient was discharged from the hospital. In addition, researchers indicated that the data could underestimate the financial impact of these medical mistakes by as much as 30% since they only looked at errors that occurred during the initial hospital stay.


The medical malpractice lawyers at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. investigate potential cases for surgery mistakes and errors throughout the United States. If you, a friend or family member have suffered severe injuries that could have been prevented, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.

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