‘Never Events’ Prove Fatal for the Elderly

Preventable medical errors such as bedsores, wrong-site surgery, and medication mistakes are known in the medical community as ‘never events’. The results of an innovative study by UCLA’s School of Nursing shows that hospital-acquired pressure ulcers or bedsores are strongly linked to Medicare patient deaths and longer hospital stays.

Data from Medicare patient records in hospitals across the United States reveals that hospitals are shirking their responsibilities with respect to avoidable pressure ulcers.
It is the duty of the hospital to identify patients at risk, such as those with existing chronic conditions, and take appropriate precautions.

Another shocking fact that recently came to light is that hospitals are failing to report adverse events or “unintended harm”. In a study on hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found that many states have an adverse event reporting system in place, but hospitals are still only reporting about one percent of these events.

A collaborative study reports that pressure ulcers cost the United States from $9.1 billion to $11.6 billion per year. The study points out the prevention of pressure ulcers needs a multi-disciplinary approach and well-coordinated team work in hospitals. Care must be tailored to suit the needs of each patient.

Better patient care is also critical when it comes to reducing health care costs. Preventing never events can save billions of dollars. In 2007, Medicare estimated that each pressure ulcer adds about $43,00 to a hospital stay. This figure is likely even higher now.

For this reason, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) stopped reimbursements for eight expensive but “reasonably preventable” secondary conditions. Patients cannot be billed for these hospital errors, hospitals will have to pay for their mistakes. The idea is to encourage hospitals to take preventive steps in order to avoid hospital-acquired conditions such as pressure ulcers. Even leading insurance companies have made the decision not to reimburse medical providers for unintended errors that occur in the course of care.

However, even these measures have not had the desired effect. The OIG found that one in seven Medicare patients experienced an adverse event during hospitalization. This leads to the deaths of 180,000 patients each year.

The legal implications of medical negligence are serious, but the irony is that medical malpractice claims are not filed in most cases. Both patients and their families are often reluctant to file a claim. In some cases, the patient may be unaware that a medical error was committed. In the case of elderly Medicare patients, they may be too traumatized and ill to do anything. Even when a claim is filed, money may take a back seat to the patient wanting answers and accountability.

To encourage patients to report adverse events, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality designed a program to collect information from patients about the harm suffered during the course of medical care.

As Chicago medical malpractice lawyers, we are deeply concerned about these findings on adverse patient events. An article in the Chicago Tribune last year reported that many of Chicago’s top medical centers appear on the list of hospitals with safety issues of varying extent. It is important that patients, their families and hospitals report such events so that follow-up and legal action can be initiated. Otherwise, patient safety is seriously in jeopardy.