While there are debates regarding whether or not instances of medical errors or malpractice in the United States are disproportional to the scale of the health care industry and patient caseload, there is no question that medical errors do occur, and be life-threatening. The U.S. Government Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality notes in its section on medical errors that a variety of factors, including workloads and related issues of stress and fatigue are major contributors to the cause of medical errors [See www.ahrq.gov/research/findings/factsheets/errors-safety/]. Whatever the cause, the American Association for Justice, which tracks such matters, concludes that medical errors are the sixth biggest killer in America following the usual list of causes like heart disease and cancer. [See www.justice.org/cps/rde/justice/hs.xsl/8677.htm] The American Association for Justice cites an important study by the Institute of Medicine that estimated that “as many as 98,000 people die every year at a cost of $29 billion” as a result of medical errors, and that the Congressional Budget Office, Congress’ in-house economic advisory agency, “found that there were 181,000 severe injuries attributable to medical negligence in 2003.”
With regard to sources for statistical data on instances of medical errors in the United States, a logical first stop could be the U.S. National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine, located on the internet at www.nlm.nih.gov/hrsinfo/datasites.html. This U.S. Government website provides links to virtually every federal agency that collects and processes data on medical issue. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains data on medical safety issues, largely focused on mistakes people make with regard to prescription medications [www.cdc.gov/medicationsafety/basics/html], as well as sites specific to various causes or aspects of the medical error issue [see, for example, www.cdc.gov/hai/]. A similar source for statistics on medication-related errors is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website at www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/MedicationErrors/default.htm.
A very useful website that provides statistics that are drawn directly from official and academic sources, with links to those sources, is www.patientsafetyfocus.com/patient-safety-current-st.html. This website includes such data as the determination that “one if five Americans (22%) report that they or a family member have experienced a medical error of some kind,” and “an average of 195,000 people in the USA died due to potentially preventable, in-hospital medical errors in each of the years 2000, 2001, and 2002, according to a study of 37 million patient records that was released by HealthGrades.” Finally, www.webcrawler.com/info.wbcrwl.304.05/search.web?q=statistics-on-medical-errors provides a wealth of links to additional sources of statistics on medical errors.