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Hospitals are making money off surgical errors

A year ago, The Boston Globe released a report that stated Massachusetts hospitals saw a 65 percent rise in doctor errors during surgical processes from 2011 to 2012. Those errors included the following:

  • Improperly placing tubing for medication in a patient
  • Placing a catheter in a patient who did not need one
  • Leaving a guidewire inside a patient’s vein
  • Injecting anesthesia into the wrong body part

While the increase of errors is troubling, perhaps even more disturbing are reports that hospitals stand to gain from these mistakes. The Journal of the American Medical Association found that nationwide, preventable complications arising from surgical procedures resulted in hospital stays that were four times as long as those without such issues.

The study found that even a medication error could lead to a lengthier stay, which in turn means hospitals bill the insurance companies for more money. In the end, hospitals averaged revenues of $49,400 for patients who experienced complications, compared to just $18,900 for those who did not.

The current fee-for-service system gives hospitals incentive to emphasize quantity and not quality care. Researchers in the study have encouraged insurance companies to offer bonuses for excellent care and refuse to reimburse hospitals for care that is substandard. Doing so, researchers argue, could lower the rates of medical negligence across the country. The New York Times reports that already, some private insurers and Medicare have a list of things they will not pay for, such as operating on the wrong body part.

The medical system still has to make large strides to keep patients safe from malpractice. Allowing hospitals to benefit from a patients’ suffering should be high on the list of things to fix.

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