Surgery patients in Massachusetts may have another reason to be nervous before going under the knife. A new study found that hospitals actually profit from surgical errors, leaving patient safety advocates worrying about what steps to take to increase patient safety and prevent surgery errors.

The study found that when hospitals make surgical errors, the patient requires more medical care and treatment. This forces the patient’s insurance company to pay for the additional care and time spent in the hospital and results in hospitals being paid more after a patient suffers a surgical mistake.

While the study said that hospitals were not intentionally causing surgical errors and complications, they did say that the current system does not make it beneficial for hospitals to change their practices that may lead to surgical errors. Under the current system, most hospitals do not have an incentive to create a safer environment with fewer surgical errors because they make more of a profit now than if they made improvements to their guidelines and standards.

The researchers reported that one way to reduce surgical errors in hospitals is to change the way insurance companies pay for their patient’s care. If the patient receives substandard care and requires additional time in the hospital for a preventable error, the insurance company should reduce or stop paying for that care. When hospitals have excellent care, insurance companies should reward those hospitals with bonuses to give them an incentive to keep patients safe and reduce medical errors and complications.

The researchers also recommended that hospitals should disclose their complication rates after surgery to show patients which hospitals are safe and which ones to stay away from. In the end, the researchers say this would help improve all hospitals because the ones with high complication and error rates would be forced to improve their care if they do not want to get shut down.

Source: Herald Tribune, “Study: Hospitals profit from surgical errors,” Denise Grady, April 29, 2013