How Common Are Deaths from Medical Errors and Mistakes?

According to a recently published study in the BMJ (British Medical Journal), medical errors and mistakes are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States. http://www.bmj.com/content/bmj/353/bmj.i2139.full.pdf

The study presents evidence that more than a quarter of a million lives every year are lost due to medical mistakes and errors. According to the study, that is more deaths than lung disease, breast cancer, AIDS, plane crashes, drug overdoses, stroke or Alzheimer's combined.

The study identifies diagnostic mistakes, lack of communication between treating physicians, inadequate discharge instructions, and incorrect medications among the leading issues listed as contributing to these fatal medical errors. Only heart disease and cancer take more lives in the United States.

The study discusses the difficulty of tracking the number of medical deaths that come about as a result of physician or hospital error. This is due to the fact that there are no federal or state requirements for reporting when a patient dies as a result of a medical error. Moreover, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) currently has no good way of tracking deaths that result from medical mistakes. The agency's death statistics are pulled from the International Classification of Diseases codes that appear on death certificates. These codes were instituted in 1949 and do not include any that indicate a death was the result of a mistake at the hospital. As a result, the researchers believe the study actually understates the true incidence of death due to medical error because it relies on errors extractable in documented health records and includes only death that occurred inside of a hospital.

The study, published in one of the most respected and long standing medical journals in the world, The British Medical Journal, was authored by American Dr. Martin A. Makary of the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/profiles/results/directory/profile/0018306/martin-makary

Dr. Markay wrote "Human error is inevitable. Although we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility and consequences."

The study's conclusion remains hopeful, "to achieve more reliable healthcare systems, the science of improving safety should benefit from sharing data nationally and internationally, in the same way as clinicians share research and innovation about coronary artery disease, melanoma and influenza."

Dr. Makary's suggests the following strategies to reduce death from medical care mistakes:

1. Make errors more visible when they occur so their effects can be intercepted

2. Have remedies at hand to rescue patients

3. Make errors less frequent by following principles that take human limitations into account

If you or someone who is close to you has been injured by a medical error or mistake, call Rich Hitz at Carlson & Burnett for a free consultation to learn how to investigate and understand your legal rights. Call Rich at (402) 952-4179.

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