Medical Error Causes 440,000 Deaths a Year and a Need For Medical Simulation Training | Visit our blog page for articles on Simulation and Staffing

Medical Error Causes 440,000 Deaths a Year and a Need For Medical Simulation Training

Medical error is defined by The BMJ as any unintended act, or failure to execute a planned action, or deviation from process of care that may or may not result in patient harm. Every year medical error causes about 440,000 preventable deaths and is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Medical mistakes that do not result in death or harm are called preventable adverse events. Medical mistakes do not always cause death or harm, however they always impact the patient. 

Medical error can be any kind of mistake. For example, a nurse giving the wrong medication dosage, or a physician not communicating properly with his patient, or even a technical failure in a computer system. In an article from CAE, they list medical error results from inadequate training, system failures, disrupted communication with medical team, and more. It can be caused by both human and system factors. However, despite medical mistakes having such a large impact on the nation, it is not recognized as a cause of death. It is not included on a death certificate or even national lists, such as the common causes of death compiled by the CDC. This is due to the fact that causes of death are not associated with ICD codes, which are codes related to human or system factors. The more attention that has been brought on this subject, the more people have come out with their own stories of how medical errors have affect them. In response to concerns of the American people, the government has created The National Center for Patient Safety in an attempt to battle this silent epidemic. To say the least, there has been a spotlight on the impact of medical mistakes on the nation. It has caused for a call to prioritize patient safety and a need for medical simulation training.

440,000 is more than just a number here. It is the number that shows the impact that medical errors have on the nation. Families lost their loved ones due to something that can be prevented. While medical error is a mistake - that bears the weight of a human life! In January of 2019, “To Err is Human” was released on DVD as a documentary focusing on the silent epidemic and the people it affects. The documentary revealed the devastating number of 440,000 deaths that are preventable each year and dives into the story of a family who lost two members to medical error. In “To Err is Human”, we follow a family who lost their father to a medical mistake, then later their son to the same cause. It is a scary story that reveals this could happen to any family. The topic is personal for the director of the documentary, Mike Eisenberg. He was the son of a patient safety pioneer, Dr. John Eisenberg. Before passing away in 2002, Dr. John Eisenberg had led the movement to improve patient safety. The documentary’s purpose was not to focus on the flaws of the medical industry, but rather spark a movement to improve those flaws and help people. The documentary can be viewed on Amazon, Youtube, and several other platforms. 

“To Err is Human” sparked a national conversation about patient safety. It begs the medical industry to ask,  “How can medical error be prevented?” Molla Donaldson writes an overview of the Institute of Medicine’s report called To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System. Donaldson details that Institute of Medicine, or the IOM, feels the focus must be moved from errors to patient safety. IOM feels that to improve safety, there must be an understanding of error and where it comes from. Errors often do not come from lack of knowledge or good intention, but rather limitations. This can include making mistakes whilst doing routine things, for example a doctor not getting enough sleep and missing a patient during rounds. In finding the evidence that supports medical error causing harm to patients, IOM detailed a four-part message that intends to improve patient safety and create a safer health-care system. That message urged healthcare professionals to build a culture of safety by using standardized patients, medication safety, avoiding reliance on memory, training in multidisciplinary teams, and more. The emphasis here is to look at all the small details that may result in medical error and see if there is a way to improve the process, which in turn will improve patient safety.

Click here to read our article about standardized patients.

With patient safety becoming a priority, medical simulation has also become an important topic. Training with multidisciplinary teams in medical simulations are now a regular event occurring often and all over the nation. Training ensures that standardization can be more enforced as well as ensure healthcare professionals have physical and emotional experience prior to working with patients. New technology for medical simulation is being introduced constantly to make patient safety a priority. Even more important, medical simulation training focuses on trainees leaving with necessary skills to function in a high stress environment and pick up nontechnical skills (NTS) as well. In a study to analyze the virtual reality training for nontechnical skills, it was found that VR simulators offer promising opportunities for NTS training of health professionals (Bracq, Michinov, and Jannin). The study measured the training’s impact of stress management, teamwork, and communication. All of which are important when working in a medical environment. The study found that medical simulation training, especially VR training, could directly impact usefulness, effectiveness, and usability in the patient care process. To summarize, medical simulation is an important part of improving patient safety. It allows for situations to be simulated that help train healthcare professionals in a variety of ways, such as experiencing emotional stress and working in a team setting. 

Medical simulation has been incredibly useful in reducing medical errors and prioritizing patient safety. Medical simulation is more than just training, it has a direct affect on the improvement of patient safety. The impact is more than just numbers. In an article researching the impact of medical simulation on medical errors, it was found that more than 1200 medical professionals are certified healthcare simulation instructors and it has become a proven method of training. Medical simulation may not solve all medical errors, however, it is a good way to combat medical mistakes. When human lives are on the line, there is no limit, there is no limit to what can be done to ensure that lives are prioritized and medical errors are prevented.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
What are you looking for?