One in 20 patients exposed to preventable harm

AROUND one in 20 patients are exposed to preventable harm in medical care, with as many as 15 per cent of these cases involving severe harm or death.

That’s the findings of UK-led research published in The BMJ.

The team behind the study called for more measures that specifically target incidents of preventable patient harm rather than overall patient harm.

Researchers from Manchester and Nottingham conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis to estimate the prevalence, severity and nature of preventable patient harm across a range of medical settings. Their analysis included 70 observational studies, involving a total of 337,025 patients.

The pooled prevalence for preventable patient harm was six per cent, while a pooled proportion of 12 per cent of preventable harm was severe or led to death. Incidents related to drugs were found to account for the largest proportion of preventable harm (25 per cent). Compared with general hospitals, where most evidence originated, preventable patient harm was more prevalent in advanced specialties such as intensive care or surgery.

They concluded: “Our findings affirm that preventable patient harm is a serious problem across medical care settings. Priority areas are the mitigation of major sources of preventable patient harm (such as drug incidents) and greater focus on advanced medical specialties.

“It is equally imperative to build evidence across specialties such as primary care and psychiatry, vulnerable patient groups, and developing countries. Improving the assessment and reporting standards of preventability in future studies is critical for reducing patient harm in medical care settings.”

A BMJ editorial article published alongside the study commented that “healthcare is not as safe as it should be” and said the study “raises serious concerns about the safety of health systems.” The authors said: ““Moving forward, efforts need to be focused on improving the ability to measure preventable harm. This includes fostering a culture that allows for more systematic capturing of near misses, identifying harm across multiple care settings and countries, and empowering patients to help ensure a safe and effective health system.”

Link: Prevalence, severity, and nature of preventable patient harm across medical care settings: systematic review and meta-analysis (research)