Patient Safety

December 10, 2021 • Volume 31, Issue 43
Can U.S. hospitals significantly reduce their medical mistakes?
By Barbara Mantel


The pandemic has highlighted long-standing cracks in the U.S. health care system, including the stubborn problem of patient safety. Before COVID-19, preventable medical mistakes claimed approximately 200,000 or more American lives each year, despite the government and organizations prioritizing patient safety over the past two decades. That number may grow as U.S. hospitals face staff shortages, especially if new spikes in COVID-19 cases cause these institutions to repeatedly be overwhelmed with high numbers of patients. As discussions continue on how to reduce injuries and deaths from medical errors, experts and advocates disagree on how to accomplish that. Some hospitals are aiming for zero patient harm, but others argue that is an unattainable goal. Meanwhile, many patient advocates are calling for the federal oversight system on patient safety to be overhauled, along with changes in how hospitals are held accountable.

Photo of two surgeons at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pennsylvania, on January 6, 2016. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Ricky Carioti)
Surgeons at the Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa., operate on a patient in 2016. It is estimated that some 200,000 or more people die annually because of medical mistakes. As hospitals worked to improve their safety records, the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges. (Getty Images/The Washington Post/Ricky Carioti)
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Medical Malpractice
Dec. 10, 2021  Patient Safety
Feb. 14, 2003  Medical Malpractice
Feb. 25, 2000  Medical Mistakes
Dec. 19, 1975  Malpractice Insurance Crunch
Nov. 08, 1952  Suppression of Medical Abuses
Biology and Life Sciences
Consumer Protection and Product Liability
Health Insurance and Managed Care
Infectious Diseases
Maternal and Child Health Care
Medical Devices and Technology
Medical Profession and Personnel
Medical Research and Advocacy
Powers and History of the Presidency
Regulation and Deregulation
Women's Health Issues