Do NY hospitals lack financial incentive to address surgical errors?

Research shows that hospitals make more profit per patient when errors result in complications, which means improving care may hurt a hospital financially.

Mistakes during medical care can have devastating consequences, especially during complex and invasive procedures such as surgery. Given this risk, many people in New York City may think that identifying and preventing medical mistakes is a top priority for most hospitals. Alarmingly, though, research suggests that financial factors may actually discourage hospitals from addressing issues concerning quality of care and reducing preventable errors.

Financial gain from complications

According to Fox News, previous research has indicated that hospitals suffer financially when patients experience preventable complications due to poor care or medical malpractice. However, a study that evaluated hospitals in the southern U.S. found that surgical errors actually resulted in greater profit per patient.

Researchers tracked the total cost of care and associated profit for 34,000 patients who underwent surgery at 12 hospitals. Altogether, 1,820 of those patients experienced complications following surgery. The researchers reported the following findings:

  • Between 3 and 17 percent of procedures resulted in complications, such as infection, stroke or cardiac arrest. The specific risk of complications varied by procedure.
  • The average complication raised a patient's cost of care by $11,500 and generated $8,000 of profit for the hospital.
  • For privately insured patients, errors that caused complications resulted in $56,000 of profit, on average, compared with about $17,000 of profit for care that was error-free.

Researchers noted that these findings don't imply that hospitals intentionally overlook or encourage errors. However, hospitals that focus on reducing errors may actually face financial losses if the measures are successful. Hospitals that take no action may earn significantly more profit per patient. This may deter hospitals from undertaking all available steps to improve patient care.

Scale of surgical errors

Surgical errors are not as rare as many people may think. According to The Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins researchers have found that "never events," which are surgical errors that should never excusably occur, happen over 4,000 times per year. These egregious errors include wrong-site and wrong-patient procedures, incorrect procedures and surgical object retention. Permanent injuries resulted from 32.9 percent of the cases surveyed in the study, and death occurred in another 6 percent.

Errors that are less outrageous than "never events" may occur even more frequently. Sadly, even seemingly trivial errors can have harmful and permanent outcomes.

Addressing wrongful injuries

Surgical errors and other substandard medical care may provide grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. To qualify for compensation in New York, victims must prove that a medical professional provided care that fell below a reasonable professional standard of care and that this negligence directly resulted in a personal injury.

Determining whether medical care was substandard can be challenging, especially when patients suffer injuries as a result of medical complications. People who have suffered such injuries may benefit from speaking to a medical malpractice attorney for advice on personal rights and potential legal options

Keywords: surgical, error, malpractice