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Unsafe care – scale and nature of the problem

The magnitude of the problem of unsafe care was first evidenced by the Institute of Medicine report To err is human, published in 1999. The estimates produced indicated that between 44k and 98k of people died in hospitals each year because of medical errors, values comparatively higher than the mortality resulting from breast cancer and AIDS.

In the last years, several epidemiologic studies have continued to raise awareness to the patient safety field, also allowing the definition of priorities of action. As data has been more widely collected, more evident is the idea that the unsafe actions are a feature of virtually every aspect of healthcare. 

  • Every year between 8 and 12% of the people admitted to hospitals and around 2% of those in primary care in the European Union (EU) suffer from an adverse event (AE) while receiving healthcare, many of which are preventable. 
  • The European Barometer indicates that 53% of EU citizens think that patients could be harmed by hospital care.

In recent years, the focus of various studies has been the economic burden of safety failures covering both direct costs due to resource wastage and indirect costs due to loss of productivity in the population.

  • In high-income countries, up to 15% of hospital expenditure can be attributed to safety failures 2
  • The consequences of preventable AEs to the EU amount have been calculated to a loss of 1.5 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs), also resulting in an annual cost in the range of 17–38 billion euros.3

  1. Institute of Medicine. To err is human: Building a Safer Health System. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2000. 650p. 
  2. Organization WH. Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030 Towards eliminating avoidable harm in health care. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. 
  3. Agbabiaka TB, Lietz M, Mira JJ, Warner B. A literature-based economic evaluation of healthcare preventable adverse events in Europe. Int J Qual Heal Care. 2017;29(1):9–18

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