The Preventable Medical Mistake that Kills 33,000 Americans Each Year
medical mistake, unplanned extubation, medical malpractice attorney

The Preventable Medical Mistake that Kills 33,000 Americans Each Year

Medical mistakes are a tragic reality in the United States healthcare system.  Every year, millions of lives are affected by preventable errors. Some estimates suggest that as many as 400,000 people die due to a…

Medical mistakes are a tragic reality in the United States healthcare system.  Every year, millions of lives are affected by preventable errors. Some estimates suggest that as many as 400,000 people die due to a medical mistake.  Research on the total number of medical mistakes that occur each year is shaky and very controversial.

Researchers now seem to be focusing more on individual types of medical mistake, and how often those incidents occur.  As a result, we can better understand how many medical mistakes happen and why.  Read on to learn more about this medical mistake and how you can get help from a medical malpractice attorney.

Researchers Identify Medical Mistake that Kills 33,000 Americans

A recent article published in Medpage Today highlights research on unplanned extubation (UE).  That is, the unplanned and uncontrolled removal of a patient’s breathing tube.  Research shows that UE occurs in at least 121,000 patients each year in the U.S.  Of those, at least 33,000 patients die as a result.

To reach this conclusion, researchers looked at intubated patients across a variety of institutions.  The results are startling:

  • 3% of intubated adults in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) experience UE.
  • 2% of intubated neonatal patients in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU) experience UE.
  • Overall, adult patients across institutions experience UE in 0.5-35.8% of intubations.
  • Overall, neonatal patients across institutions experience UE in 1-80.8% of intubations.

What this research shows is that UE is a far too common in hospitals across the country.  Researchers suggest that there certainly needs to be clear standardized practices, procedures, and quality measures in place to prevent UE.

The Cost of Unplanned Extubation

With at least 121,000 incidents each year, researchers are urging the healthcare community to take a closer look at the cost of UE.  UE puts patient lives at risk, and has an impact on their families, careers, and communities.  According to researchers:

  • UE doubles the hospital length of stay, which adds around $4.9 billion in annual healthcare costs among adult patients.
  • Among neonates, UE extends the average length of stay from nine days to a staggering 51 days. With an average of 80,000 such incidents each year, that adds $2.9 billion in healthcare costs.

These costs, totaling nearly $8 billion, are unnecessary strains on families and the healthcare system.  Patients who suffer from UE are already vulnerable because of their illness, and a medical mistake like UE can have a detrimental impact on their recovery.  Consequently, research notes it can be life-changing, or fatal.

What is Being Done to Prevent This Medical Mistake?

In addition to research highlighting the danger of UE as a preventable medical mistake, victim families are also coming forward.  This has led to a series of “movements” and even the creation of a coalition.

Earlier in 2019, patient safety and quality improvement organizations partnered with medical professional societies and formed the Coalition for Unplanned Extubation Awareness and Prevention.  This coalition is headed by the Society for Airway Management, the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, and the Airway Safety Movement.  The goal of joining forces and creating the Coalition for Unplanned Extubation Awareness and Prevention is to raise awareness, highlight the real danger, and reduce preventable deaths.

The “Campaign to Zero” coalition is working toward hospitals being involved in the process of instituting standardized policies and procedures for UE prevention.  The campaign also aims to implement quality measures.  The coalition is currently working on an Actionable Patient Safety Solutions (APSS) guide to help create and maintain safe practices for UE in hospitals.  The APSS includes plans, protocols, checklists, quality measures, and outcome tracking.

What Hospitals Can Do

Hospitals are at the center of efforts to prevent UE related deaths.  No hospital or healthcare provider wants to admit that they could make a medical mistake.  Regardless, these mistakes happen at an alarming rate.

In order to prevent UE related deaths, hospitals and healthcare providers must take steps toward improving their intubation patient information, monitoring, and quality measures.  This will require improvements in data tracking, quality improvement, safety standards, and electronic health record (EHR) software.

Art Kanowitz, the founder of the Airway Safety Movement, states that:

“It’s time to call attention to this pervasive and preventable medical complication that claims so many lives — and take action.  And the time is now.”

Getting Help After a Medical Mistake

If you or a loved one is the victim of a medical mistake, you may or may not realize it.  Your healthcare providers may not tell you exactly what happened. Furthermore, many are afraid to admit they made a medical mistake.  UE is just one example of medical mistakes that can be prevented with better standards and quality care.

Medical mistakes include injury or illness related to:

  • Failure to diagnose a medical condition
  • Failure to treat a medical condition in a timely manner
  • Prescribing the wrong medication
  • Performing surgery on the wrong part of the body
  • Inadequate infection control

If you or someone you love is battling illness or injury for any of these reasons, your rights may have certainly been violated.  Some medical mistakes are purely accidents, but a majority are the result of negligence and could have been prevented.

Find out more about your legal rights as a patient by contacting  Our medical malpractice attorney can advise you about your situation and determine if you have an actionable medical malpractice claim.

To request a free consultation call us at 877-887-4850.  Or, you can reach out to us online by filling out our online form.  Your consultation is completely free, so don’t hesitate to contact us with questions or concerns.

Meagan Cline

Written By Meagan Cline

Meagan Cline is a professional legal researcher and writer. She works alongside the team at to provide readers with up-to-date information relevant to the healthcare and legal industries.

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