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Patient injuries are thought to have a substantial financial impact on the health care system, but recent studies have been limited to estimating the costs of adverse drug events in teaching hospitals. This analysis estimated the costs of all types of patient injuries from a representative sample of hospitals in Utah and Colorado. The authors detected 459 adverse events (of which 265 were preventable) by reviewing the medical records of 14,732 randomly selected 1992 discharges from 28 hospitals. The total costs (all results are discounted 1996 dollars) were $661,889,000 for adverse events, and $308,382,000 for preventable adverse events. Health care costs totaled $348,081,000 for all adverse events and $159,245,000 for the preventable adverse events. Fifty-seven percent of the adverse event health care costs, and 46% of the preventable adverse event costs were attributed to outpatient medical care. Surgical complications, adverse drug events, and delayed or incorrect diagnoses and therapies were the most expensive types of adverse events. The costs of adverse events were similar to the national costs of caring for people with HIV/AIDS, and totaled 4.8% of per capita health care expenditures in these states.

Originally published in: Inquiry, v. 36, Fall 1999, pp. 255-264.

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