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Study: Poor Hospital Care Harms 40 Million Worldwide

  • Jessica Berman

Surgeons of the general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, open the abdominal wall of a patient during liver surgery, Aug. 15, 2013.

Surgeons of the general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, open the abdominal wall of a patient during liver surgery, Aug. 15, 2013.

A new study has found that more than 40 million people worldwide are harmed by poor hospital care each year. Researchers said most of the unsafe medical care occurs in low- and moderate-income countries.

Researchers poured over data contained in 4,000 studies looking for instances of substandard hospital care around the world.

Ashish Jha, a professor of health policy at Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston, helped lead the study. “Well, you know, we’ve had suspicion for some time that unsafe care, medical errors, adverse events, bad things that happen to patients when they go to the hospital, are a substantial problem,” he stated.

Jha and colleagues from the World Health Organization in Geneva and RTI International in Durham, North Carolina, found that almost 26 million cases of unsafe medical care occur in hospitals in developing countries. The remaining 16.8 million instances of harm occur in the West.

The researchers also measured the number of days of life lost to death or disability due to poor hospital care, finding that twice as many of those days occur in low- and moderate income nations compared to Western countries.

The leading cause of injury in hospitals in lower income countries were blood clots, because patients did not move around enough during extended stays.

Other causes of harm include urinary tract infections, blood stream infections, falls and bedsores.

Medication errors accounted for most of the substandard care in the West.

Jha said it’s not that hospital training in less developed nations is inferior to schools elsewhere in the world. Rather, he thinks it’s an issue of delivering safe care. “You know, health care has become more complex. It’s become more dangerous. Medications have more side effects. There are very sick people in the hospital who have infections, and most organizations throughout the world are just not paying attention to these issues,” he said.

Jha said there’s only so much the families of patients can do to ensure the safety of their loved ones, so the ultimate responsibility rests with the hospital facilities themselves. But he and his colleagues call for policymakers to focus on improving the quality and safety of healthcare systems, as well as increasing access to care.

An article on unsafe medical care in hospitals around the world is published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety.
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