Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in United States
Horrific stories of patients leaving the hospital with surgical gauze still packed underneath their stitches, surgeons removing the wrong limb or body part, or of nurses administering medications meant for another patient are the stuff nightmares are made of. Medical malpractice in medical care has been dominating the headlines lately, and while you might assume such incidents are uncommon, a new study conducted by patient-safety researchers might make you feel less confident about your medical expectations.
The study, conducted by John Hopkins medical researchers, claims that medical errors should be ranking as the third most common cause of death in the United States. It also outlines how flaws in vital statistics tracking might be hindering research and keeping the issue from public scrutiny. John Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary leads the authors in calling for changes in death certificate documentation in order to tabulate fatal lapses in care correctly, and urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to include medical errors to its annual list when reporting the leading causes of death.
Leading Causes of Death
Nobody knows the exact number of people who die due to medical errors each year in the United States, because the CDC’s coding system does not address things like poor judgment, diagnostic errors or communication breakdowns when recording death certificate data. However, based on prior research, the study estimates that the 251,000 deaths from medical error rank just below the 600,000 deaths from cancer and heart disease in 2014, and above the 150,000 deaths from respiratory disease. Considering that hospital and health-care facility deaths due to “medical errors” are so incredibly common – claiming more than Alzheimer’s, stroke, accidents and respiratory disease, it is no wonder that so many people seek representation from medical malpractice attorneys after unpleasant or injurious experiences.
Published in The BMJ, (formerly the British Medical Journal) on Tuesday, the analysis shows that a failure to invest in research and a lack public attention has contributed to the inability to reflect the impact of medical errors, and the authors call for inserting a new question to be added to death certificate documentation asking if preventable care complications could have contributed to the death.
Mortality Reporting Discrepancies
CDC’s mortality statistics branch chief, Bob Anderson, disputes the claim that CDC agency coding is the issue. He contends that codes do capture complications from medical care, and that they are listed on death certificates. However, only “underlying causes of death” are included on a death certificate, which is defined as being the initial condition the patient sought treatment for. Even if a physician lists a medical error on a death certificate it isn’t included in the published mortality statistics. Anderson claims that doctor education concerning the importance of reporting medical errors is a more effective solution than adding a question to death certificates, because that puts doctors in the uncomfortable position of reporting that their patient’s death was due to medical error.
The leader of the research, Martin Makary, states that the category of medical error includes a variety of factors, from communication breakdown in the system when patients are transferred between departments to bad doctors. The professor of surgery at John Hopkins University School of Medicine commented on the irony of patients dying from the treatment and care received at a medical facility rather than the initial complaint they sought treatment for.
If you or one of your loved ones has been the victim of medical errors or malpractice, know your rights! Contact the attorneys at GOM Law today for a free consultation. Our experienced malpractice attorneys can help you receive the compensation you deserve.