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Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death: Part I

A recent article in NPR News shares data recently published in The BMJ suggesting that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. Part I of this article will review those statistics, and discuss the current problems regarding tracking causes of deaths in America, including medical errors, as well as the benefits associated with better tracking. In part II, to be continued, the why behind the occurrence of medical mistakes will be discussed, as well as what types of errors are most common and the rights that patients have after a medical error is made.

The Statistics: Top Causes of Death in America

According to the article, medical errors now take the lives of about 250,000 Americans each year – the only two things that kill more Americans are heart disease and cancer (each of these killed about 600,000 people in the year 2014).

While these statistics are harrowing, the facts may be even worse than they seem; no one really knows the exact number of lives that medical errors take each year, because the way that deaths are coded is antiquated and fails to account for deaths caused by medical errors.

The Problem with Tracking Medical Errors in the U.S.

When a person dies, their death must be recorded. In today’s world, the coding system that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) use lists a number of causes of death, but “medical errors” is not one of them. Rather, only the underlying condition is counted. For example, say that a patient suffering from heart disease undergoes open heart surgery. If the patient dies during the surgery, the underlying cause – heart disease – is listed as the cause of death, not a communication breakdown (for example) that led to a surgical error. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, who authored the study, “the inability to capture the full impact of medical errors results in a lack of public attention and a failure to invest in research.”

The Benefits of Better Tracking

Part of the solution to reducing the number of deaths caused by medical errors in the U.S. each year, then, may indeed be a better tracking system that allows hospitals, and the CDC, to record precise causes of death, including not only medical errors, but specific medical errors. While the root of the problem is obviously the act of error itself, better tracking may improve funding and increase public awareness of the issue. The more that the public becomes involved; the more likely it is that resources will be directed towards public safety measures and interventions to reduce medical error prevalence.

If you are a victim of a medical error in Washington D.C., or if you have lost a loved one due to an act of medical malpractice, contact the law firm of Bertram & Amell for a free case consultation.

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