AHRQ, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has put out another study on medical errors This one has a slightly different methodology than the IOM’s 1999 "To Err is Human" study. The researchers estimated that the study’s findings mean about 32,600 deaths result from various specifically defined medically-caused injuries in the U.S. each year.
The IOM’s estimates are of 44,000 to 98,000 deaths. Some of the difference is due to the AHRQ’s methodology and choice of data set. (Here’s the abstract). Their data set was much larger than those used by the IOM, and was based on administrative and billing data but didn’t include chart review. The IOM study was based mostly on various other studies that included chart review. In addition the new data focuses on "injuries" resulting from specific procedures and as far as I can tell doesn’t include adverse drug reactions, so the actual number of total deaths is likely to be much higher.
It’s also worth noticing that the attempts to find the truth in what’s really going on are hampered by the age of the data, and the type of data collected. But the direction in which all the data points is very clear. It’s dangerous in that big white building, and going into hospital can be very hazardous for your health. Thankfully, from all anecdotal evidence I’m hearing about/seeing, providers are getting the message and are working on getting the CPOE systems, drug databases and workflow systems into the hands of clinicians. Hopefully, this will mean that those error or "injury" rates will start coming down.
On a childish aside, if you check out AHRQ’s URL you’ll notice it used to be called the The Agency for Health Policy and Research. Think about that for a moment. Shouldn’t research come before policy, you say? Well they were going to name it that way until someone noticed it’s acronym would be AH-CRaP).