U.S. surgical errors cost $1.5 billion a year: report

Doctors and nurses assist in the preparation of a patient during a surgery in Monmouth, New Jersey October 30, 2007. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Preventable medical errors during or after surgery cause 10 percent of surgery-related deaths and may cost employers nearly $1.5 billion a year, according to a U.S. government report released on Monday.

Errors ranged from bedsores and reopened wounds to infections and blood clots, according to the study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The agency looked at the records of more than 161,000 patients aged 18 to 64 covered by employer-based health plans who had surgery in 2001 and 2002.

The records indicated that one of every 10 patients who died within 90 days of surgery died because of a preventable error and one-third of the deaths occurred after the patient was discharged.

A patient who developed acute respiratory failure after surgery cost insurers $28,218, or 52 percent extra, while an infection cost $19,480 or 48 percent more, agency researchers William Encinosa and Fred Hellinger found.

Errors related to nursing care, such as pressure ulcers and hip fractures, added $12,196 to the average bill, they found.

“Eliminating medical errors and their after effects must continue to be top priority for our health care system,” AHRQ Director Carolyn Clancy said in a statement.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Peter Cooney