Medical Errors are Causing Patient Deaths: Here's How We're Saving Lives

Shocking? Yes.  New?  Not even close.

The headline Medical Errors are the Third Leading Cause of Death is a popular title for a recent study that highlights the impact diagnostic errors can have on patients.

A web search turned up similar headlines every few years going back to the 1990’s. Clearly, not much has changed.  There are still too many diagnostic errors and not enough has been done to reduce the carnage. 

Four critical data points:

  1. “…diagnostic errors could easily be the biggest patient safety and medical malpractice problem in the United Sates.” In the same article, the definition of a diagnostic error is “a diagnosis that is missed, wrong or delayed.” David Newman-Toker, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  2. “Medical laboratory testing plays a crucial role in the detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease in patients… an estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of all decisions regarding a patient's diagnosis and treatment, hospital admission and discharge are based on laboratory test results.” Mayo Clinic Medical Laboratory Sciences
  3. “More than 7 billion clinical lab tests are performed in the U.S. each year, providing critical data for a relatively small expenditure.” American Clinical Laboratory Association
  4. According to a study conducted by ECRI, "the Institute evaluated 2,420 mistakes that occurred between 2011 and mid-2013; 52 hospitals voluntarily submitted laboratory and radiology events to the group's safety-event reporting system. Only 4% of reported potentially harmful errors actually occurred in the laboratory, according to the report. However, hospitals who submitted events attributed errors to the laboratory setting 25% of the time." Sabriya Rice, Modern Healthcare

Let’s connect the dots: 7 billion lab tests per year inform 70% of diagnostic decisions.  It’s pretty obvious that more attention should be paid to the possibility that laboratory test results contribute to diagnostic errors that may lead to death — especially non-interfaced lab results received by fax that require human intervention to relay the results, match it to the patient and translate test names, unit measures and reference ranges.

Extract System’s customers use technology to deliver standardized discrete test results data to the EMR where the physician wants them, very quickly and extremely accurately. Before discovering our software, our clients  have had weeks of backlog results that have not been posted to the EMR.  Clients have estimated their data entry error rates are between 2% and 5% before implementing our intelligent clinical data extraction solution.  Not very surprising when considering recent headlines.

With Extract, clients eliminate the backlog of data waiting to be delivered to the EMR with a reduction in entry error by as much as 75%.  Furthermore, the ongoing software cost to accomplish this can be around 27 cents per test result.

In 2013, David Newman-Toker of Johns Hopkins also said, “More research money needs to be devoted to finding answers.”  Sure, it would be great to get government research dollars. But based on history, we shouldn’t hold our breath. Besides, we don’t need the government to show us the cost-benefit of improving the quality and speed of delivery of the data that informs 70% of all diagnosis?  Extract will help you do the calculation for free.


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About the Author: David Rasmussen

With 30 years’ experience leading software companies, David is driven by the challenge to consistently find groundbreaking ways to solve customer problems and finds it rewarding to hit the customer’s target and create a great team, build a solid infrastructure, and emerge with a strong value proposition.