Economic measurement of medical errors using a hospital claims database

Value Health. 2013 Mar-Apr;16(2):305-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jval.2012.11.010.


Objective: The primary objective of this study was to estimate the occurrence and costs of medical errors from the hospital perspective.

Methods: Methods from a recent actuarial study of medical errors were used to identify medical injuries. A visit qualified as an injury visit if at least 1 of 97 injury groupings occurred at that visit, and the percentage of injuries caused by medical error was estimated. Visits with more than four injuries were removed from the population to avoid overestimation of cost. Population estimates were extrapolated from the Premier hospital database to all US acute care hospitals.

Results: There were an estimated 161,655 medical errors in 2008 and 170,201 medical errors in 2009. Extrapolated to the entire US population, there were more than 4 million unique injury visits containing more than 1 million unique medical errors each year. This analysis estimated that the total annual cost of measurable medical errors in the United States was $985 million in 2008 and just over $1 billion in 2009. The median cost per error to hospitals was $892 for 2008 and rose to $939 in 2009. Nearly one third of all medical injuries were due to error in each year.

Conclusions: Medical errors directly impact patient outcomes and hospitals' profitability, especially since 2008 when Medicare stopped reimbursing hospitals for care related to certain preventable medical errors. Hospitals must rigorously analyze causes of medical errors and implement comprehensive preventative programs to reduce their occurrence as the financial burden of medical errors shifts to hospitals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Actuarial Analysis
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Databases, Factual
  • Female
  • Hospital Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors / economics*
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Middle Aged
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / economics*
  • Wounds and Injuries / epidemiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Young Adult