Patient Safety

Fact sheet
1 February 2012

Key facts

  • Estimates show that in developed countries as many as one in 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care.
  • The harm can be caused by a range of errors or adverse events.
  • The risk of health care-associated infection in some developing countries is as much as 20 times higher than in developed countries.
  • At any given time, 1.4 million people worldwide suffer from infections acquired in hospitals.
  • Hand hygiene is the most essential measure for reducing health care-associated infection and the development of antimicrobial resistance.

Poor equipment

  • At least 50% of medical equipment in developing countries is unusable or only partly usable.
  • Often the equipment is not used due to lack of skills or commodities. As a result, diagnostic procedures or treatments cannot be performed.
  • This leads to substandard or hazardous diagnosis or treatment that can pose a threat to the safety of patients and may result in serious injury or death.

Bad habits

  • In some countries, the proportion of injections given with syringes or needles reused without sterilization is as high as 70%.
  • This exposes millions of people to infections.
  • Each year, unsafe injections cause 1.3 million deaths, primarily due to transmission of blood-borne pathogens such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus and HIV.
  • Surgery is one of the most complex health interventions to deliver. More than 100 million people require surgical treatment every year for different medical reasons.
  • In developed countries, problems associated with surgical safety account for half of the avoidable adverse events that result in death or disability.

The cost

  • The economic benefits of improving patient safety are compelling.
  • Studies show that additional hospitalization, litigation costs, infections acquired in hospitals, lost income, disability and medical expenses have cost some countries between US$6 billion and US$29 billion a year.

The risk

  • Industries with a perceived higher risk such as aviation and nuclear plants have a much better safety record than health care.
  • There is a one in 1 million chance of a traveller being harmed while in an aircraft.
  • There is a one in 300 chance of a patient being harmed during health care.
  • Patients' experience and their health are at the heart of the patient safety movement.
  • The World Alliance for Patient Safety is working with 40 champions – who have in the past suffered due to lack of patient safety measures – to help make health care safer worldwide.
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