43 million medical errors occurring worldwide, study suggests

According to a study recently published in BMJ Quality & Safety, an online journal that provides information relating to healthcare quality, 43 million instances of medical negligence occur worldwide every single year.

Researchers were able to break down the millions of instances by category and pinpoint where they are happening most frequently around the globe.

The study

Individuals from the Harvard School of Public Health conducted the study and deduced their conclusions after examining 4,000 articles on patients all over the world who received substandard care. The articles were written during a 35 year timeframe starting in 1976.

7 classifications of medical errors

Researchers separated the instances into seven distinct medical error classifications including:

1. Prescription drug errors.

2. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, from catheter problems.

3. Blood infections from catheter problems.

4. Hospital-acquired pneumonia.

5. Blood clots.

6. Falls.

7. Bedsores.

A breakdown

They were able to determine the number of instances each occurred in various areas of the world: low, middle, and high income countries. Roughly 17 million cases of medical errors occurred in high-income countries. Nearly 26 million errors occurred in low and middle-income countries.

  • Prescription drug errors in high-income countries: The results revealed that the most prevalent type of substandard care error in high-income countries was from medication errors. Specifically, about 5 percent of hospital stays were attributed to medication mishaps. The most common type of injury from medication errors that occurred in the United States, in particular, was from adverse effects of drugs.
  • Blood clots in low and middle-income countries: The results revealed that the most prevalent type of substandard care error in low and middle-income countries was blood clots. Approximately 3 percent of hospital stays were attributed to blood clots in these areas of the globe.


The results also showed that low and middle income countries have twice as many deaths (15 million compared to 7) from overall medical errors as high-income countries-possibly due to inadequate, care, equipment, and sanitation in developing countries.


Dr. Ashish Jha, one of the Harvard School of Public Health researchers, suggests that patients, regardless of location, shouldn’t face additional harm from unnecessary medical errors and that it “should be a major policy emphasis for all nations” to provide proper patient care.

Chief Patient Safety Officer with a physician-owned medical malpractice insurer agrees and says that “outgrowth of this research for all countries, not just the United States is needed.” He hopes that more standardized data collection systems will be implemented to aid in this.