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Higher Age Group At Increased Risk Of Dying Or Suffering Harm From Hospital Errors

July 23, 2017

According to a new research study published in the latest issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, older patients have a higher probability of suffering harm as a result of medical misadventures* and their likelihood of dying from such misadventures is up to fifty times more compared to patients aged fourteen or under. The study was conducted by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Although a partial explanation of the results of the study could be attributed to the fact that older people usually have a number of co-existing illnesses, undergo more procedures and are more likely to have other medical complications, further research is required to identify why they are at such a far higher risk of avoidable injury when undergoing treatment at hospitals.

The current study has revealed that patients aged 75 or over have increased chances of experiencing a misadventure in hospital and more likely to die as a result. Misadventures can occur both during surgical or medical care.

In the first study, the researchers collected data from NHS hospitals in England and Wales over the past twenty years. They then, analysed deaths and hospital episodes due to misadventure during medical care across four different age groups: 0-14 years; 15-59 years; 60-74 years, and age 75 and over. They showed that in any given hospital the rate of procedures performed were seven times higher for older patients than for children.

The authors also reported that since 2001 there had been a notable decrease in the number of people dying from misadventures across all age groups. They believe that changes to the way in which these clinical incidents were categorized could have led to this decline. The researchers stated that for older people the risk of dying as a result of a misadventure during any hospital procedure was over 50 times higher compared to children aged one to fourteen. Also, the death rate per procedure performed was 2 times that of the younger age group.

"We know that older people are more vulnerable to ill health so it's not surprising that they undergo more treatment. But if something goes wrong they may be less able to recover than a younger person and we need to know much more about the risk to which they are exposed,"
said Dr Phil Edwards, who is a senior lecturer in statistics and one of the authors of the study.

The researchers have suggested that more targeted research must be conducted to fully understand why older patients are more vulnerable to avoidable injury when undergoing treatment at hospitals.

Dr. Phil Edwards further commented,

"The higher rate of avoidable harm and death due to misadventure in this age group needs to be fully researched. Are we giving elderly patients appropriate care? It could be that the procedures which older patients undergo are comparatively more risky and complex, or that they are being given treatments which have only been tested on younger patients. Despite the fact that they receive far more medical treatments than younger patients, older patients are often excluded from clinical trials of these treatments. Or it could be down to older people receiving poorer standards of care. At the moment, we just don't know."
Data sets published by NHS that record the numbers of incidents were used in the study. Examples of incidents are: unintentional cutting or perforation during surgery; foreign objects (such as swabs) being left in the body; infections being transmitted during a procedure, and the wrong dosage of a drug being administered to a patient (see full list below).

Source: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Anne Hudsmith