Medical Errors Reported for Massachusetts Hospitals–Causes of Serious Injuries and Deaths Identified

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has released its first annual report of Serious Reportable Events at Massachusetts acute care hospitals. The report reveals that there were over 300 serious events resulting in personal injury and at least 19 deaths, including serious surgical errors, falls, and medication errors. The report reflects some aspects of the causes of medical malpractice cases in Massachusetts.

Guidelines for reporting serious events were adopted by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and implemented in 2008. Under the guidlines, Massachusetts hospitals are required to report six general categories of events, including:

  • Surgical errors
  • Care management problems (medications errors, pressure ulcers)
  • Product or device-related complications
  • Patient protection problems (suicide protection)
  • Environmental problems, including slips and falls
  • Criminal events

Slip and fall injuries, particularly among the elderly, constituted the most frequent problem at hospitals, with over 230 events statewide. These accidents occurred when patients were dizzy from medication, had vision problems, were not protected from falling from their beds, or did not have needed assistance.

Surgical problems continue to occur at shocking rates. The report includes 32 instances of objects being left in surgical patients, 24 wrong site surgeries (for example, wrong leg operated on), 5 wrong procedure injuries, and 1 wrong patient injury.

There were a dozen serious medication errors and a dozen pressure sore problems reported as well.

There can be little doubt that this report reflects only a portion of the serious medical events that should be reported. We say that for a couple of reasons. First, this was the first year of reporting, and hospital administrators are still learning what needs to be reported. Some hospitals have no doubt been more transparent and vigilant in their reporting and their efforts to reduce error. (Beth Israel Hospital under Dr. Paul Levy is the leader in this respect.) It is unlikely that the bed sores have been accurately reported, given the low number (12) versus the enormous patient population.

Transparency and accident reporting are two keys to improving patient safety at hospitals. Reduction in medical malpractice from surgical errors can be achieved with more time spent among the surgical staff double-checking to ensure the correct patient, the correct procedure, and the correct site of the surgery. We have previously discussed how surgical safety checklists reduce the rate of medical malpractice, including the rate of serious injuries and wrongful death.

The highest rate of injury was reported at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston (though this may reflect a small patient population and aggressive reporting). The greatest number of incidents was reported at the Saint Vincent Hospital in Worcester. 

Hospital mishaps top 300, Boston Globe, April 9, 2009
Massachusetts Department of Public Health press release, April 8, 2009 

Seeking Appropriate Legal Assistance

Surgical errors, medication errors, and most hospital accidents are preventable. By increasing patient safety procedures throughout hospitals, injuries and wrongful death from medical negligence can be reduced.

If you or a loved one has suffered injury or wrongful death as a result of a physician’s negligence, or the negligence of a hospital’s staff, you should promptly seek qualified legal representations. The Massachusetts lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck are experienced in medical malpractice cases. We are available for a free consultation. Please call us today at 800-379-1244.

Some Examples of Our Experience

The following are a few examples of our firm’s experience with serious medical error cases: