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How Many Medical Errors Occur at California Hospitals?

In California, hospitals are required to report medical errors to the state Department of Public Health. However, the information is not easily accessible to the public.

To determine how prevalent medical mistakes are in California hospitals, NBC Bay Area filed a public records request to gain access to the error reports filed by the state’s healthcare facilities as well as the database of fines levied for adverse events.

The documents, which took nine months for NBC Bay Area to secure, revealed that 6,282 adverse events were reported to the state over the last four fiscal years. Below are the most common errors:

  • Stage 3 or 4 decubitus ulcer (bedsores) acquired after admission (3959)
  • Retention of a foreign object in a patient (986)
  • Adverse event or series of adverse events (347)
  • Surgery performed on a wrong body part (140)
  • Death or serious disability associated with a medication error (114)
  • Death associated with a fall (109)
  • Death during or up to 24 hours after surgery (108)
  • Sexual assault on a patient (107)
  • Death or serious disability associated with the use of restraints or bedrails (104)

Stanford Medical Center and University of California, San Francisco Medical Center reported the most adverse events, according to the investigation. In response, Dr. Josh Adler, Chief Medical Officer at UCSF, suggested that his hospital’s high numbers reflect diligent reporting.

“I believe we are a very safe hospital and part of the reason we are safe is that we have been in the error-finding and resolving business for a long time,” Dr. Adler said. “We are dedicated to finding all our errors if we can, and then reporting them.”

In its report, NBC Bay Area notes that many states regularly publish adverse event data on their websites, where the public can readily search it. In contrast, the California Department of Public Health only publishes a limited annual report and does not make it available online.

As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, we support efforts to bring greater transparency and better medical error reporting to the state. Given that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, it is imperative to track adverse events and hold hospitals accountable for preventable mistakes.