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Medical Error Is the Third Leading Cause of Death In the US

The title of the article says it all.  The authors of this report calculate that 9.5% of deaths in the US or 251,454 deaths annually (which equates to nearly 700 deaths a day) are due to medical errors. Others have pointed out that the number of severe patient injuries resulting from medical errors are also overlooked, with some estimates saying that this number could be as high as 40 times the death rate.From Medscape:

Medical Error Is Third Leading Cause of Death in US

Medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer, according to findings published today in BMJ. As such, medical errors should be a top priority for research and resources, say authors Martin Makary, MD, MPH, professor of surgery, and research fellow Michael Daniel, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

But accurate, transparent information about errors is not captured on death certificates, which are the documents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) uses for ranking causes of death and setting health priorities. Death certificates depend on International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes for cause of death, so causes such as human and system errors are not recorded on them. And it's not just the US. According to the World Health Organization, 117 countries code their mortality statistics using the ICD system as the primary health status indicator.

The authors call for better reporting to help capture the scale of the problem and create strategies for reducing it....."Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country's research funding and public health priorities," Dr Makary said in an university press release. "Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don't appear on the list, the problem doesn't get the funding and attention it deserves."

The researchers examined four studies that analyzed medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008. Then, using hospital admission rates from 2013, they extrapolated that, based on 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths stemmed from a medical error.That number of deaths translates to 9.5% of all deaths each year in the US — and puts medical error above the previous third-leading cause, respiratory disease. In 2013, 611,105 people died of heart disease, 584,881 died of cancer, and 149,205 died of chronic respiratory disease, according to the CDC

The authors suggest several changes, including making errors more visible so their effects can be understood.....Another is changing death certificates to include not just the cause of death, but an extra field asking whether a preventable complication stemming from the patient's care contributed to the death.The authors also suggest that hospitals carry out a rapid and efficient independent investigation into deaths to determine whether error played a role. A root cause analysis approach would help while offering the protection of anonymity, they say. Standardized data collection and reporting are also needed to build an accurate national picture of the problem.

 

Jim Rickert, MD, an orthopedist in Bedford, Indiana, and president of the Society for Patient Centered Orthopedics, toldMedscape Medical News he was not surprised the errors came in at number 3 and that even those calculations don't tell the whole story."That doesn't even include doctors' offices and ambulatory care centers," he notes. "That's only inpatient hospitalization resulting in errors." ...."It's public pressure that brings about change. Hospitals have no incentive to publicize errors; neither do doctors or any other provider," he said.

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