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Injuries in Hospitals Pose a Significant Threat to Patients and a Substantial increase in Health Care Charges

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Press Release Date: October 7, 2003

Medical injuries during hospitalization resulted in longer hospital stays, higher charges, and a higher number of deaths in 2000, according to a study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The study, "Excess Length of Stay, Charges, and Mortality Attributable to Medical Injuries During Hospitalization," is published in the October 8 Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers, led by AHRQ's Chunliu Zhan, M.D., Ph.D., found that the impact of medical injuries varies substantially. Postoperative bloodstream infections had the most serious consequences, resulting in hospital stays of almost 11 days longer than normal, added charges of $57,727, and an increased risk of death after surgery of 21.9 percent. Based on this data, researchers estimate that 3,000 Americans die each year from postoperative bloodstream infections. The next most serious event was postoperative re-opening of a surgical incision, with 9.4 excess days, $40,323 in added charges, and a 9.6 percent increase in the risk of death. This equates to an estimated 405 deaths from reopening of surgical incisions annually. Birth and obstetric trauma, in contrast, resulted in little or no excess length of stay, charges, or increase in the risk of death.

"This study gives us the first direct evidence that medical injuries pose a real threat to the American public and increase the costs of health care," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D. "The nation's hospitals can use this information to enhance the efforts they already are taking to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety."

The study used AHRQ's Patient Safety Indicators and Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project's Nationwide Inpatient Sample data to identify medical injures in 7.45 million hospital discharges from 994 acute care hospitals across 28 states in 2000. The study provides, for the first time, specific estimates for excess length of stay, charges, and the risk of death for each of 18 of the 20 AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators.

"The message here is that medical injuries can have a devastating impact on the health care system," said Dr. Zhan. "We need more research to identify why these injuries occur and find ways to prevent them from happening."

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: (301) 427-1364.


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