Medical Errors and Reducing Bloodstream Infections

If anyone doubted that medical errors carry a hefty price tag — beyond the obvious suffering of patients and their families – that doubt has been removed by a new study.

The Wall Street Journal Health Blog notes that medical errors and associated problems cost the US economy $19.5 billion in 2008, according to a study released today. The study, commissioned by the Society of Actuaries and carried out by the actuarial and consulting firm Milliman, is based on insurance claims data. The report estimates the errors caused more than 2,500 avoidable deaths and over 10 million lost days of work.

The number of avoidable deaths seems awfully low, considering that catheter-related bloodstream infections alone account for an estimated 30,000 deaths among U.S. patients each year. Presumably methodology differences account for the underestimate of CRBSI. Medical errors covered by the study included bed sores, post-op infections and implant or device complications.

Increasingly in our PR practice, we see the need for technology to address medical errors. Sometimes these errors are simple and avoidable – such as the failure to properly clean needleless IV connectors, which can be overcome by the use of Excelsior Medical’s SwabCap device. SwabCap replaces alcohol swabs for cleaning connectors (also known as luer access devices) — making it much easier for nurses to comply with cleaning protocols demanded by the Joint Commission. The device adds the extra safety measure of protecting IV connectors for up to 96 hours, in the pathogen-laden atmosphere of hospital rooms.