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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 a 2014 survey conducted for the Center, nearly 1 in 4 Massachusetts adults responded that a preventable medical error was made in their own care or in the care of someone close to them during the prior five years. These errors caused serious health consequences more than half of the time.

National studies have found that as many as 250,000 people die each year from preventable medical harm related to hospitalizations — making medical error the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.

In addition to the burden medical harm places on individuals, researchers estimate that preventable errors drive up health care costs by more than $20 billion each year nationwide.

Low awareness among policymakers and the public about the magnitude of medical error presents a significant challenge to mitigating this pressing public health risk.