In 1999 the Institute of Medicine announced that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from medical errors. Shocking as that revelation was, now it seems the estimate may have been low. A new study due out this week finds that the number of preventable patient deaths in hospitals is actually twice as high. According to HealthGrades, the health-care-rating organization that conducted the study, needless deaths averaged 195,000 a year in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
"That's the equivalent of 390 jumbo jets full of people dying each year," says Dr. Samantha Collier, vice president of medical affairs.
But there is reason for hope. Last week the Senate passed legislation that would create a voluntary and confidential reporting system for medical errors, to help health-care providers learn from prior mistakes. And patients now have new tools for researching hospital safety. This month the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations launched a new hospital scorecard at qualitycheck.org. And this week HealthGrades will post a list of the 88 hospitals with the best patient-safety records at healthgrades.com. As the report suggests, it may pay to check up on a hospital before checking in.