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Number of deaths caused by errors in MN hospitals rose last year

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The number of patients who died because of errors at Minnesota hospitals has reached its highest level in seven years.

Sixteen patients died from "adverse events" at state hospitals in the 12 months up to Oct. 6 2015, according to a report released Friday by the Minnesota Department of Health. That's the highest number of deaths seen since 18 died during 2008.

Overall there were 316 adverse events reported during the period, with 16 deaths and 93 incidents leading to serious injury. The most common causes of serious injury were falls, medication errors, and suicide/attempted suicide.

But the most common cause of death was newborn babies who died from labor/delivery complications despite a low-risk pregnancy. Five low-risk infants died in the 12-month period, with 2 seriously injured.

The four patients who died and 10 who were seriously injured from being given the wrong medication, or not being given the medication they needed, marked the highest level in the 12 years MDH has been reporting on adverse events.

The Star Tribune notes Minnesota is one of only five U.S. states that discloses adverse events from hospitals, with the report part of the MDH's "concerted effort" to tackle preventable injury and deaths.

Here's some other key points from the report:

  • Patient falls dropped to their lowest-ever number of 67, which MPR points out followed a campaign to modify patient bathrooms where falls tend to happen.
  • The number of foreign objects left in surgical patients reduced by a third to 22 compared to 2014.
  • Loss of irreplaceable biological specimens rose from 20 to 27.
  • In 20 cases out of 2.7 million surgeries last year, patients received the wrong surgery or invasive procedures. 60 percent were cases in which patients received "the wrong implant."
  • 31 percent of injuries sustained in falls were hip fractures.

The 316 total adverse events is fairly consistent with previous years, though 4 new adverse events were added in 2014 and weren't tallied in years prior to that.

These four events were loss of specimen, failure to communicate lab, pathology or radiology results, death of infants in a low-risk pregnancy, and injuries associated with introducing a metallic object into the MRI area.

The Star Tribune has taken a more in-depth look at deaths from medication errors in a piece you can read here, which reveals half of the injuries or deaths happened after patients had returned home or to long-term care facilities, but medical staff failed to check and adjust their medications accordingly.

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