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Deaths caused by hospital errors fell by 75 percent last year

Despite the reduction in deaths, preventable errors increased in Minnesota hospitals.
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Deaths caused by hospital errors in Minnesota dropped by 75 percent last year, even though overall errors rose.

The Minnesota Department of Health released on Friday its annual "adverse health events" report that shows how many people using state hospitals were affected by avoidable errors, such as bed sores, getting the wrong surgery, and falls on hospital wards.

There were 336 adverse events reported to the health department between Oct. 7, 2015, and Oct. 6, 2016, the report says, but there was a significant reduction in the number that resulted in a patient's death – down to four last year compared to 16 the year before.

Three of these deaths were caused by falls, and the other caused by a medication mistake.

Although describing the improvement as a positive step forward, adverse health events program director Rachel Jokela told the Pioneer Press "it's kind of hard to celebrate that number until it's zero."

"We are sorry when any of those events happen; that’s four patient families that lost a loved one," she said.

Overall, there were 336 adverse events reported in 2015-16 which resulted in 106 serious injuries, compared to 316 errors with 93 serious injuries the year before.

For the first time since 2011, there were no deaths resulting from suicide. There were six attempts made in hospitals over the 12-month reporting period.

Causes of hospital errors

The most common adverse event in Minnesota hospital is bed sores, with 129 preventable incidences of these reported in 2015-16. This is the highest number reported since 2012, when there were 130.

There were 72 falls, three of which proved fatal. But while the number of falls rose slightly last year, there were still fewer than in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and the number of deaths caused by them is the lowest in the past five years.

Of the 72 falls, 31 percent of them resulted in a hip fracture, while 36 percent resulted in either broken arms or legs.

There are several categories of surgical errors, such as having the surgery carried out in the wrong location (which happened 30 times), having foreign objects left inside during the surgery (26 times) and having the wrong procedure (19 times).

The Minnesota Department of Health says there were 3.1 million surgical or invasive procedures carried out in state hospitals during the year.

The incorrect medication was administered on 19 occasions, according to the report.

Not all of the errors result in harm however. The report also includes errors like when biological specimens get misplaced or lost, which happened 31 times during the reporting period.

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