Our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys are intimately and unfortunately familiar with the high costs – both financial and personal – of medical malpractice. Now, a new study takes a look at another dimension of these costs: societal. While a medical error can take a life, or a dramatic toll on the victim and his family, the combined costs of these errors also take a dramatic toll on our entire society and economy.
The researchers at Milliman, Inc. found that in 2008, patients sustained approximately 6.3 million medical injuries in the United States. Of these, 1.5 million were the result of preventable medical error, or as the study defined it, “injury which results from inappropriate medical care” – likely medical malpractice. As an example, the authors described various allergic reactions to medication. Any such reaction would be considered a medical injury. If, however, the allergy was previously known by the hospital, but the drug was administered anyway, this would be a medical error. The medical errors identified in the study cost a whopping $19.5 billion.
As the study itself noted, however, this figure was likely underestimated. Certain types of associated costs were necessarily excluded – for example, uncoded medical errors. Moreover, if a death from a medical error occurred outside the hospital where the error was made, it would not be recorded in the same records, and thus would also not be included.
Of the total costs, the vast majority – $17 billion, or about 87%, was due to the strictly medical costs of medical errors, including inpatient and outpatient treatment and prescription medicines. Due to the nature of the study, however, these costs were cut off after one year. The remainder was made up of the costs of deaths and missed work due to disability.
This estimate was made using medical claims data. The researchers used the claims data from a large group of insured patients, then extrapolated to the general population. In addition to the pure monetary costs, the study found that medical errors result in 2,500 unnecessary deaths.
Even more shockingly, medical errors resulted in more than 10 million missed days of work due to disability. This was in spite of the fact that, like medical expenses, the study excluded any work missed due to disability after one year had passed. Many disabilities from medical error result in longer disabilities – even lifelong.
And this does not include what is perhaps the largest societal cost of medical errors: pain and suffering. Because pain and suffering cannot be ascertained from hospital records, and is difficult to quantify, the study did not include these costs in its estimate. But the Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Passen & Powell know that, to many victims of medical error, these costs are the most significant. The costs of pain and suffering can extend for the rest of the patient’s life, limiting her ability to work, the kinds of work she can do, her recreational activities, and her happiness.
Also not included in the $19.5 billion estimate were the costs and judgments associated with actual medical malpractice claims. The authors’ rationale is understandable, at least as to judgments and payouts, because much of the money that makes up these payments is duplicative of the amounts the authors had already included . . .
The decision not to include the administrative costs associated with medical malpractice claims (such as legal expenses), however, significantly affected the results. These expenses are a substantial additional cost of medical errors. As these costs were not included, the $19.5 billion figure was dramatically underestimated.
For a free consultation with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.