Massachusetts Medical Errors Increased by 60 Percent

One hospital was responsible for nearly half of the incidents reported in 2015.

Baystate Medical Center

Baystate Medical Center photo by John Phelan on Wikimedia Commons

A single hospital shoulders much of the blame for a 60 percent jump in preventable medical errors statewide, according to Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) data.

Each year, hospitals are required to disclose Serious Reportable Events (SREs) to DPH, in an effort to maintain transparency and monitor hospital performance. For calendar year 2015, oversights and errors in Baystate Medical Center’s dialysis unit led to 575 SREs, accounting for nearly half of the 1,313 incidents reported by facilities statewide. That’s up from 821 in 2014, and way up from the 366 reported in 2011.

The Boston Globe reports that DPH inspections found unsanitary conditions, improper infection control, and overcrowding in the Springfield hospital’s dialysis wing, putting hundreds of patients at risk of infection. (No cases of hepatitis B or hepatitis C, the most serious of the possible resulting illnesses, have been reported at this time.)

Medical mistakes are not limited to Baystate, though—DPH data shows a wide range of SREs. The most common resulted from contaminated drugs or devices (446), injuries or deaths after falls (317), and serious pressure ulcers (226). The data also shows less frequent but highly troubling mistakes, such as 26 surgeries or procedures performed at the wrong site, 12 misused or malfunctioning devices, 36 foreign objects left in the body after a procedure, and 12 instances when doctors performed the wrong surgery or procedure.

While a 60 percent rise in medical errors is certainly jarring, the Globe notes that the increase may have more to do with outside factors, such as hospitals being expected to treat patients quickly or adopting better monitoring and reporting practices, than it does with worsening care. Barbara Fain, executive director of patient safety agency the Betsy Lehman Center, made a similar point in the article.

The data “reported in Massachusetts doesn’t tell us whether medical errors are increasing,’’ she said.