Study: Medical errors cost nation almost $20B each year

Preventable medical errors cost the country $19.5 billion in 2008 — or roughly $13,000 for each avoidable case, according to a report published Monday by the Society of Actuaries (SOA).

And that number is likely low, according to consultants at Milliman, who crunched the data. 

"We used a conservative methodology and still found 1.5 million measureable medical errors occurred in 2008," says Jonathan Shreve, an actuary for Milliman who co-authored the report. "This number includes only the errors that we could identify through claims data, so the total economic impact of medical errors is in fact greater than what we have reported."

More than half of those costs were associated with just five avoidable medical injuries: pressure ulcers; post-op infections; mechanical troubles with devices, implants or grafts; post-laminectomy syndrome; and hemorrhages.

Aside from the direct financial effect, the 2008 errors also resulted in more than 2,500 avoidable deaths and more than 10 million missed work days.  

The report arrives as lawmakers are hoping to rein in the skyrocketing cost of healthcare by reducing waste and linking provider payments more closely to the quality of the care delivered, not just the quantity.

If the SOA study is any indication, there's plenty of savings out there to be had.