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The Problem of Medical Error

Medical errors are unintended consequences of care or treatment of a patient in a hospital, doctor’s office, nursing home or other health care setting. Many of these errors stem from underlying systems failures, such as breakdowns in coordination or communication.

In 2019, the Betsy Lehman Center released a comprehensive report, The Financial and Human Cost of Medical Error … and How Massachusetts Can Lead the Way on Patient Safety which detailed two sets of research findings. Key takeaways from the report included that in a single year:

  • 1 in 5 Massachusetts residents report recent experience with medical error
  • More than 60,000 preventable medical errors were identified; they represent a fraction of the total number of errors because of data limitations
  • $617 million excess costs were attributable to the errors identified

Low awareness among policymakers and the public about medical error presents a significant challenge to mitigating this pressing public health risk. The Center’s report proposes a coordinated response through which the Commonwealth’s providers, policymakers, and public can accelerate safety and quality improvement and lead the nation on this urgent health care challenge. This led to the creation of the Massachusetts Healthcare Safety and Quality Consortium, a group of health care leaders that is currently working on a strategic plan to improve care and reduce errors across the state.