American Medical News

(St. Paul, Minnesota) - The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) held a press conference today to announce their first-ever report on the occurrence of adverse events and medical errors in Minnesota.

According to Twila Brase, president of Citizens' Council on Health Care (CCHC), who attended the press conference, at least two aspects of the report could mislead the public:

The Death Count: The report states that 20 deaths occurred between July 1, 2004 and October 6, 2004 due to reportable adverse events. However, after Ms. Brase asked Health Commissioner Diane Mandernach if the department was certain that the 20 deaths were actually caused by medical errors, the commissioner clarified for her and news reporters that certain assumptions had been made about causation, and more work on standardizing definitions needs to be done.

Ms. Brase noted in her question that researchers found that studies used by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for their 1999 report, "To Err is Human," had inaccurately reported the number of deaths from medical errors. In addition, she said, these later peer-reviewed studies found physicians often disagreeing about whether a medical error had actually been made.

Debatable Statistics: The 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year reported by the 1999 Institute of Medicine report has long been called into question by several studies written in peer reviewed journals, with some researchers saying it could be as low as 5,000 - 15,000 a year. Yet the Minnesota Department of Health continues to use these figures in the report.

The report's own statistics increase doubts about the IOM numbers, says Brase.

Brase notes that even if the 20 deaths reported by MDH are an accurate count, a very rough calculation using that figure leads to a much smaller estimate than 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year nationally.

"Extrapolated over a year, 20 deaths in 3 months would be 80 deaths in one year. Extrapolated over the entire country - or multiplied by 50 states - that would be only 4,000 deaths a year," says Brase.

"Accidents happen. Mistakes are made. But medical errors should not be made out to be a bigger problem than they are. Government agencies must be very accurate in their reporting lest the public be misled," says Brase.

Media Contact:

Twila Brase, President
Phone: 651-646-8935 (office)