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The Institute of Medicine Report: To Err is Human

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Updated September 13, 2011

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine, an agency of the US Government, issued the results of two studies which stood patients and the medical community on their ears. The report, called To Err is Human, stated the following:

  • Between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors in hospitals alone. That does not account for those who die from medical errors outside the hospital.

  • It is the equivalent to the number of people who would die if a jumbo jet crashed every day, and all its passengers died.

  • Medical errors cause more deaths than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.

It then laid out the basics of a plan to reduce the numbers of "preventable adverse events," a euphemism for medical errors.

The report was a watershed in patient safety, giving rise to the patient empowerment movement. It highlighted the reasons the reported deaths happened, calling for a shift from placing blame, to finding the reasons and fixing them. It further outlined a series of proactive recommendations for doing just that.

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