Study says medical errors are the third-leading cause of death

A new study says that medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

A new study shown by Johns Hopkins University says that medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the United States. The study says that an estimated quarter of a million people die every year in the U.S. because of medical errors, which would put it behind only cancer and heart disease as the leading cause of death. The authors of the study say that the alarmingly high number of deaths caused by medical errors show that more needs to be done to make hospitals safer for patients.

Quantifying the problem

As the researchers note, one problem with trying to measure how many people actually die because of medical errors is that a medical or hospital error is not listed as a cause of death on death certificates. As a result, they say, previous studies have tended to underestimate the scope of the problem.

According to the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention, for example, the current top three leading causes of death are, in order from highest to lowest, heart disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Heart disease and cancer each kill close to 600,000 people in the U.S. each year, while COPD is responsible for about 149,000 deaths. However, this latest study suggests that medical errors may actually be the third-leading cause of death, with approximately 250,000 deaths annually.

Improving health care

Furthermore, as U.S. News & World Report points out, that estimate of 250,000 deaths only includes inpatient deaths. If outpatient deaths are also included then the actual annual death toll from medical errors could be as high as 400,000.

There are many theories as to why medical errors remain so stubbornly high when there have been vast improvements in other causes of preventable deaths in recent decades. Deaths caused by workplace accidents, traffic accidents and airline crashes have all declined dramatically as those industries have implemented safety improvements. One theory is that as medicine has become more complicated, many hospitals have failed to evolve. Instead of recognizing that the complexity of healthcare today requires a team effort, far too many hospitals still rely on a hierarchical approach that places too much power in the hands of a single physician. A more collaborative approach, critics say, would allow mistakes to be caught sooner and improve overall patient safety. In our experience, requiring that doctors and hospitals learn from their mistakes is vital.

Medical malpractice

Medical error, as the above article shows, is a widespread problem that does not get talked about nearly enough. Hospital mistakes can and do happen and for patients who have been the victims of these mistakes the consequences can be dire. We are medical malpractice attorneys who can help those hurt by medical errors. Requiring justice when a loved one has died or been seriously hurt by malpractice helps keep everyone safer.