The Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety’s June 2019 report entitled “The Financial and Human Cost of Medical Error … and how Massachusetts can lead the way on patient safety” found “almost 62,000 medical errors [in Massachusetts], which were responsible for over $617 million in excess health care insurance claims in a single year—just exceeding one percent of the state’s Total Health Care Expenditures for 2017. Because some of the most common types of errors (for example, medication and diagnostic errors) cannot be reliably identified using health insurance claims data, these numbers underestimate both total incidence and cost.”
The report found that “many of the people who report recent experience with medical error are suffering long-lasting behavioral, physical, emotional, and financial harms. Individuals report that they have lost trust in the health system and some avoid not only the clinicians and facilities responsible for their injuries, but health care entirely. Moreover, most respondents expressed dissatisfaction with how their health care providers communicated with them after the errors.”
The report stated: “Massachusetts mandates that hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers report medication errors resulting in serious injury or death. In 2017, facilities reported a combined total of 52 such errors. Yet, in a recent study that followed patients through 277 surgeries at a single Massachusetts hospital, researchers observed that 1 in every 20 medications administered involved an error and/or harm event. Of over 150 errors found to be preventable, nearly 90 percent either caused or could have caused serious or even life-threatening consequences. Studies like this show that if you look, you will find far more errors than providers detect and report.”
“Survey respondents described significant, persistent physical harms from medical errors that had happened as many as six years before the survey. Almost 30% stated that their physical health (or the physical health of the household or family member to whom the error happened) was impacted at least to some degree for one year or more. An additional 12 percent were family members of a person who reportedly died … Two-thirds of respondents expressed reduced levels of trust in health care no matter how long ago the error occurred. Well over half of the respondents whose error happened 3-6 years ago say that they sometimes or always continue to avoid the doctors or the health care facility involved in the error. Of even greater concern is that more than one-third of all respondents report that they continue to sometimes or always avoid all medical care.”
“Despite a Massachusetts law that requires providers to disclose medical errors that cause significant harm and encourages apology, more than 60 percent of respondents expressed overall dissatisfaction with how providers communicated in the aftermath of an error. Fewer than one in five (19%) of respondents say that they received an apology after the medical error. Most people (82%) who did receive an apology felt it was sincere.”
“The findings from these two studies demonstrate an urgent need for policymakers and providers to prioritize safety and quality and act to accelerate progress in reducing preventable patient harm in all health care settings throughout the Commonwealth.”
Who Was Betsy Lehman?
Betsy Lehman was a nationally recognized Boston Globe health columnist and mother of two young girls when she died of a massive overdose of chemotherapy while being treated for breast cancer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute on December 3, 1994. At the time, health care providers were not in the practice of reporting serious harm events to the state’s regulatory agencies. Nor did they typically disclose errors to patients and families.
In Betsy Lehman’s case, about two months after her death, Dana Farber staff discovered the medication error and informed her family. Her colleagues at the Globe made the decision to provide extensive, sustained coverage not only of the error leading to her death but of the broader risks to patient safety. The Department of Public Health was alerted to the overdose by the Globe’s coverage and launched an investigation.
In Massachusetts and nationally, Betsy Lehman’s death catalyzed a movement to recognize that patient harm is not always caused by an individual clinician’s negligence. Rather, preventable medical harm can be viewed as a consequence of institutional systems and culture that had not kept pace with the complexities of modern health care.
If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of the medical negligence in Massachusetts or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find a Massachusetts medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.