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Children in Hospitals Frequently Experience Medical Injuries

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Press Release Date: June 7, 2004

Children in hospitals often experience adverse patient safety events—such as medical injuries or errors—in the course of their care, with those in vulnerable populations, including children under 1 year old at highest risk, according to a study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The study, which uses the recently developed Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) to focus on children in hospitals, examined 5.7 million hospital discharge records for children under age 19 from 27 states, drawn from the 2000 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project State Inpatient Database. This is one of the first studies to quantify the impact of patient safety events on children in terms of excess hospital stays and charges as well as the increased risk of death among children due to medical errors.

In total, the PSIs identified 51,615 patient safety events involving children in hospitals during 2000. Children up to 1 year old were consistently and significantly more likely to experience many of the events identified by the PSIs than older children, and children whose primary insurance was Medicaid were also more likely to experience several of the PSI events.

The prevalence of patient safety events resulting in injuries among children also had an impact on the length of stay, charges and the rate of in-hospital deaths. For example, infections resulting from medical care caused a 30-day increase in the average length of stay, and resulted in increased charges an average of over $121,000 per discharge. In total, the combined excess charges for all PSI events are estimated to have exceeded $1 billion. Postoperative respiratory failure increased the rate of deaths in hospitals by as much as 76 percent. The researchers estimate that if all deaths among pediatric patients who experience a medical injury are attributed to those injuries, then the records in their analysis alone account for 4,483 deaths among hospitalized children in the year 2000 alone.

"Our nation's hospitals can use these findings to help them direct their efforts to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety among the youngest patients," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, M.D.

The researchers, led by Marlene R. Miller, M.D., from Johns Hopkins Children's Center found that the likelihood of a child experiencing a patient safety event varied greatly depending on the type of event. Some types of events were very uncommon, like postoperative hip fractures and transfusion reactions, both of which occurred less than once for every 10,000 discharges. Others types of events, however, were very prevalent. The leading patient safety events were obstetric trauma among adolescent mothers, with and without forceps, vacuums, or other instruments, with rates of 2,152 and 1,072 per 10,000 discharges, respectively.

"The Patient Safety Indicators are a valuable tool for researchers to use in identifying the significant problems in patient safety experienced by hospitalized children on a national scale," said Dr. Miller. "The PSI data provide a road map for further research and action in pediatric patient safety."

The report, "Pediatric Patient Safety in Hospitals: A National Picture in 2000," is published in the June 2004 issue of Pediatrics.

Another article funded by AHRQ, in the same issue of Pediatrics, titled "Voluntary Anonymous Reporting of Medical Errors for Neonatal Intensive Care," by Gautham Suresh, M.D., and colleagues, of the University of Vermont's Center for Patient Safety in Neonatal Intensive Care, found that when a specialty-based, voluntary, anonymous Internet reporting system for identifying medical errors in neonatal intensive care was implemented, a significant number of medical errors were identified. The researchers successfully implemented the reporting system in 54 neonatal intensive care units in the Vermont Oxford Network. It demonstrates that health care providers will voluntarily report significant medical errors and adverse events to an external organization using a system like the one these researchers designed, when there is trust in that organization.

As part of its effort to make health care safer and reduce medical errors, AHRQ has developed materials that will help patients choose wisely when it comes to their health care. Information for consumers, including 5 Steps to Safer Health Care and 20 Tips to Help Prevent Medical Errors, can be found on AHRQ's Web site at

Editor's Note: A previous article by the authors of the Miller report, titled "Excess Length of Stay, Charges, and Mortality Attributable to Medical Injuries During Hospitalization," also used the Patient Safety Indicators to identify medical injuries for all patients, regardless of age. That report was published in the October 8, 2003, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs: (301) 427-1862 or (301) 427-1855.


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