Edited by Myron D. Fottler, Donna Malvey and Donna J. Slovensky
Medical errors in the United States engender national economic and policy concerns as well as affecting individuals and organizations. The financial and human costs associated with medical errors in the US have recently been estimated at $17.1 billion (Van Den Bos et al., 2011) and between 210 000 and 400 000 patient deaths (James, 2013) each year. Medical error and its flip side, patient safety, have been of concern among healthcare providers for many years, but did not emerge as national policy issues until the late twentieth century. Occasional articles appeared in the research literature and trade press, but they rarely engendered sufficient attention or controversy to get the populace involved in advocating for system-wide improvements. Public records concerning medical data date back at least 500 years when weekly lists of deaths from the plague were enumerated in England. The oldest Bill of Mortality extant, thought to be from 1512, records the deaths of 66 unnamed persons, 34 of whom died from the plague; the cause of death for the other 32 was not specified (Schulz, 2014). From such beginnings as these simple lists, the legal death certificate and the electronic medical record (EMR) have evolved. Data concerning deaths from medical error, whether avoidable (for example, administering penicillin to an individual known to be allergic) or unavoidable (for example, an unforeseen adverse drug event) began to appear in the late twentieth century.
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