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JAMA Study: Surgery Errors Boost Hospital Profits

A comprehensive medical study found that U.S. hospitals increase their profit margins when patients suffer surgery errors or complications.

operating room-thumb-140x105-19228.jpgThe research examined the cases of nearly 35,000 surgery patients and found that those with private insurance who suffered operating room errors or complications increased hospital profit margins by 330 percent. Similarly, hospitals made 190 percent greater profits when Medicare patients suffered surgery errors or problems.

The study, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), drew troubling conclusions. The study's authors note that hospitals have been slow to implement error-prevention systems, even though they're readily available. The data demonstrates why: Hospitals would have to pay money to implement error-prevention measures, only to make smaller profits.

The research surely raises a lot of questions for lawmakers. Should the federal government use Medicare coverage to strong-arm hospitals into reducing harmful surgery errors? If so, how?

Pushing hospitals to improve surgical care for privately insured Americans would be much more difficult. The federal government doesn't hold the purse strings for privately insured patients. Perhaps the only way to encourage hospitals to focus on surgery error reduction is through legislation. New laws would certainly involve partisan battles and formidable opposition from pro-hospital lobbyists.

The situation can make a surgery patient feel powerless, but an injured patient can bring a medical malpractice lawsuit to recover damages. If enough injured patients hold hospitals accountable, they might be forced to start prioritizing patient safety over profits.

McKeen & Associates, PC, is a national medical malpractice law firm that helps surgery error victims across the United States. McKeen & Associates is proudly based in Detroit, Michigan.

Source: The JAMA Network, "Relationship Between Occurrence Of Surgical Complications And Hospital Finances," Sunil Eappen, MD, April 17, 2013

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