Several reports have blamed medical errors for thousands of adverse events and deaths among patients in recent years. One study estimates that medical errors occur in 3.7 percent to 16.6 percent of hospitalized patients, contributing to at least 44,000 deaths in the United States each year. Data on deaths due to medical errors involving heart disease and stroke patients is more limited, but a small study of 182 deaths from cerebrovascular disease, pneumonia or heart attack suggests that 14 percent to 27 percent of the deaths may have been avoidable.
Additionally, a study of 203 cases of cardiac arrest concluded that half of the arrests may have been prevented, says Jane E. Freedman, M.D., a member of the American Heart Association's Committee on Acute Cardiac Care and lead author of the statement. Medication error was the most common cause of potentially preventable arrest, occurring in 44 percent of cases. Mistakes can be made while prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administering or monitoring medication. Sometimes the incorrect drug is prescribed or dispensed, while other times drug dosages are so high that they are toxic. Another error is creating a dangerous combination with other drugs.
Noting the small size of the studies, Freedman says, "There really isn't any good general data regarding death caused by medication error among cardiovascular patients. But whatever the exact figures are, it is clear from what we know that patient safety can be improved.
"We need to figure out how to best police errors and develop a system to evaluate how big a problem medica
Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association