In 1999 the U.S. Institute of Medicine released what would become a touchstone report, To Err is Human, which estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 people die in hospitals each year due to medical errors that could have been prevented. It brought the idea of building a safer health system to the forefront of the public’s mind.
Since then, improving health care outcomes has become a central goal in everything from clinical training and research studies to government initiatives and political debate. Clinicians, hospitals, professional organizations, and researchers have made significant strides over the last decade and a half in improving patient safety. In many ways, patients today are safer than ever before. However, multiple independent reports have found that medical errors are still a pervasive problem, with recent research suggesting that preventable medical error is responsible for 3%–5% of hospital deaths, or 21,000–35,000 preventable deaths in the U.S. alone. While these figures continue to be scrutinized and improved, it’s clear that there is more to be done to make patients safer.