Medical Error Causes More Deaths In The US Than Stroke, Respiratory Diseases

By Arvin Matthew, Parent Herald May 06, 07:10 pm

A new study found that medical errors in hospitals and health-care facilities are now the third-leading cause of death in the US. Health policy experts say the most effective way to get people to notice glaring statistic is by including error-related deaths in the country's annual mortality report.

Medical Error As Valid Cause Of Death

Even though doctors have been trying to call attention to the problem for almost 20 years, medical error is still not reported as a cause of death on death certificates. In 1999, a report by the Institute of Medicine revealed that approximately 98,000 Americans died every year from medical errors. Now, the figure has risen to roughly 251,000.

In a recent analysis published in British Medical Journal, researchers at the at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine concluded that if medical error was a disease, it would have claimed more lives per year than stroke and respiratory diseases. It would be ranked as the third leading cause of death in the US behind heart diseases and cancer.

"We spend a lot of money on cancer and heart disease but we have not even recognized that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States," the study's lead author Dr. Martin Makary told NBC News. "We have not as a country recognized the endemic problem of people dying from the care that they receive rather than the illness or injury for which they seek care."

Broad Term

Medical errors have been well documented over the years, but have proven to be difficult to pin down. It's still unclear what kind of medical error has claimed more lives than others. Some of the popular culprits include surgical blunders, hospital-borne infections and wrong or late diagnosis.

The New York Times cited an instance in which an erroneous diagnostic test resulted in a liver injury which in turn caused the patient to die of cardiac arrest. The correct cause of death should have been medical error, but in that particular case, the patient's cause of death was listed as cardiovascular.

To Err Is Human

Makary reasoned that healthcare providers are only humans. People should not expect them to not make mistakes. Be that as it may, Makary believes that the US government can still do more "to create the safety nets and protocols to address the human factor."

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