Is unnecessary hospital death avoidable? A $1.8bn dollar problem?

You go to hospital to get better - but unfortunately 750 people last year didn’t get better, indeed the result of their hospital experience was death and these deaths were “potentially avoidable”.

A further (approximately) 5,000 people “suffered preventable, serious harm ” - from about 600,000 hospital admissions per year. In percentage terms that’s 0.125% for avoidable death and 0.833% for avoidable serious harm.

It always seems cold and callous to express the loss in dollar terms (PDF 32kb) but it does give a common reference that is sometimes easier to appreciate. The last sum agreed in late 1990s was $2.5m per death (a revised estimate of $4m has yet to be agreed). Working with the $2.5m figure that amounts to $1.875bn of avoidable loss annually.

It’s not a new problem - “…what has been in health services for as long as we know.” It’s a classic case of repetitive failure. Worse - there is an expectation of “the inevitability of harm”.

So what is going to be done about this $1.8bn WOMBAT?

Canterbury is conducting a “safe-patient journey” initiative to streamline patient movement at the hospital.

I’d hope that this initiative is a result of a systematic analysis of the root causes of failure and addresses those causes not just the symptoms.

This problem is best addressed by analysing each instance and the root cause of that particular instance - the causes of that instance alone and ensuring that one instance could never happen again. And then do the next one, and the next one and the next one. Each failure is an opportunity to learn and prevent.

Avoidable harm is not inevitable.

3 Responses to “Is unnecessary hospital death avoidable? A $1.8bn dollar problem?”

  1. No Wombats » Blog Archive » A “plethora of policies” won’t fix hospital safety Says:

    [...] Today’s newspaper reports that changes to hospital safety are too slow. As we’ve noted here before, it’s a $1.8bn annual problem. [...]

  2. No Wombats » Blog Archive » “Slow and patchy” progress on the $1.8bn hospital death problem Says:

    [...] 750 people unnecessarily die each year in New Zealand hospitals - that’s almost twice the annual road toll. Fifteen people per week are dying and using the “statistical value of life” of $2.5m per person that’s a $1.8bn problem - as we noted last May. [...]

  3. No Wombats » Blog Archive » Confident it was an isolated case Says:

    [...] way to deal with repetitive failure - and preventable hospital death in New Zealand is definitely a case of repetitive failure, the national solution to which has been to take seven years to produce an incomplete [...]

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