Last month, the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety published a report regarding patient injuries and death due to medical errors, or medical malpractice. The report found approximately 62,000 medical errors occur yearly in Massachusetts. A few days later, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (“DPH”) published a similar report on “Serious Reportable Events” (SREs), medical errors that are found to be preventable. The DPH reported only 1,267 medical errors in 2018, an astonishingly low number compared to the number reported by the Betsy Lehman Center. For instance, the Betsy Lehman Center reported 224 events of retained foreign objects; meanwhile the DPH report only noted 33 events.    

The discrepancy in the number of medical errors per year in Massachusetts is likely due to different information used to calculate the number of medical errors. While the Betsy Lehman Center’s numbers rely on billing codes, insurance claims, and other objective information from patient records, the DPH relies on hospitals and other medical facilities accurately reporting medical malpractice and errors that occur in these facilities. As you might imagine, many errors may fall into a gray area where underreporting is beneficial to the hospital. The DPH also more narrowly defines what constitutes a medical error through its definition of what types of events need to be reported to the DPH and patients. The DPH has identified classes of events that are “usually or reasonably preventable.” Hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) are only required to report substandard care and medical errors that fall into one of the following categories:  

Types of Serious Reportable Events:

Surgical or Invasive Procedure Events:

  • Wrong site surgery of procedure
  • Surgery or procedure on wrong patient
  • Wrong surgery or procedure
  • Unintended retention of foreign object
  • Intraoperative or immediate postoperative death of an ASA Class 1 Patient

Product or Device Events:

  • Death or serious injury related to contaminated drugs, biologics, or devices
  • Death or serious injury related to device misuse or malfunction
  • Death or serious injury due to intravascular air embolism

Patient Protection Events:

  • Discharge of Patient/Resident of any age to other than authorized person
  • Death or serious injury associated with patient elopement
  • Patient suicide, attempted suicide, or self-harm that results in serious injury

Care Management Events:

  • Death or serious injury associated with medication error
  • Death or serious injury associated with unsafe blood product administration
  • Maternal death or serious injury associated with low-risk pregnancy labor or delivery
  • Death or serious injury of a neonate
  • Death or serious injury associated with a fall
  • Stage 3, Stage 4 or unstageable pressure ulcer
  • Artificial insemination with wrong donor sperm or egg
  • Death or serious injury from irretrievable loss of specimen
  • Death or serious injury from failure to follow up on test results       

For the DPH to include a medical error in its SREs report, not only does it have to fit one of the classes listed above but it also has to be reported by the medical facility. If the goal is to accurately identify the number of patients impacted by medical errors in Massachusetts every year, the Betsy Lehman figures appear to be much more reliable.  

If you or your loved one has been harmed by a medical error or medical malpractice, you need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you navigate through the complexities of the legal system. SUGARMAN can help. Please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000, or email for a consultation.