Avoidable medical errors cost the U.S. economy $19.5 billion in 2008, according to a claims-based study commissioned by the Society of Actuaries and conducted by Milliman Inc. Approximately $17 billion was the result of providing inpatient, outpatient and prescription drug services to individuals affected by medical errors. Another $1.1 billion was from lost productivity due to short-term disability claims, and $1.4 billion was lost because of increased death rates among individuals who had experienced medical errors.

Other findings include:

  • There were 6.3 million measurable medical injuries in 2008; of those, the report's authors estimate that 1.5 million were associated with a medical error.
  • The measurable medical errors resulted in more than 2,500 avoidable deaths and more than 10 million excess days missed from work due to short-term disability.
  • The average total cost per error was approximately $13,000.
  • Seven percent of inpatient admissions are estimated to result in some type of medical injury.

The study also identified the 10 most expensive errors in 2008. In the following list, the first five errors make up 55 percent of the total error costs: pressure ulcers; postoperative infections; mechanical complication of a device, implant or graft; postlaminectomy syndrome; hemorrhage complicating a procedure; infection following infusion, injection, transfusion or vaccination; pneumothorax; infection due to central venous catheter; other complications of internal prosthetic device, implant and graft; and ventral hernia without mention of obstruction or gangrene.

For more information, go to www.soa.org.