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Study: Medical Errors are the No. 3 Cause of Death in U.S.

Medical mistakes by hospitals, surgeons, doctors, nurses and other health care professionals cause 250,000 deaths a year. That’s according to recent research by physicians at Johns Hopkins Medicine, who are urging the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise their “Top 10” causes of death to include this problem. 

According to the new research, which was conducted over an eight-year period, medical errors cause more deaths than respiratory disease. They also cause more deaths than suicide, kidney disease, the flue and diabetes – all combined. It’s a bigger problem than accidents, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease too.

The study authors say their findings make it clear that medical errors far surpass the current third-leading cause of death, respiratory diseases, which reportedly claim 150,000 American lives a year. 

Published in the most recent issue of the journal The BMJ, the study asserts that the number of deaths that can be directly attributed to medical mistakes haven’t been recognized in any sort of standard calculation of national statistics. Essentially, the CDC is deriving its numbers from the medical coding system, which was designed to maximize billing for physician services. It was not ever intended to serve as a source of national health statistics, but that is how it is being used by the CDC.

The CDC started using these codes back in 1949, when the medical community in the U.S. agreed to adopt the International Classification of Diseases billing codes. At that time, the issue of medical mistakes, diagnostic errors or failed safety nets really wasn’t on the radar of the medical community, especially not as a legitimate and significant source of patient injury and death.

We now know that safety medical errors – whether they lead to Florida medical malpractice lawsuits or not – are a substantial issue.

In reaching that 250,000 figure, researchers culled data of death rates from 2000 to 2008. What they found was that preventable medical errors by health care professionals reportedly are to blame in approximately 9.5 percent of all deaths each year in the U.S.

Right now, the CDC ranks the nation’s top three causes of death as:

  • Heart Disease
  • Cancer
  • Respiratory Disease

So what does it really matter whether this issue is ranked at all?

As lead study author Dr. Martin Makary explained, these issues – as reported by the CDC – inform our country’s research and funding. As it now stands, the problems with heart disease and cancer garner tons of attention. However, because medical errors aren’t a problem that ranks on the list, it is virtually ignored.

But this report wasn’t necessarily about calling out “bad doctors.” In most cases, researchers asserted, medical errors are systemic problems that arise from things like:

  • Poorly-coordinated car;
  • Fragmented networks of insurance;
  • Under-use of available safety nets;
  • Failure to adhere to certain safety protocol;
  • Lack of accountability.

By identifying medical errors as a top health concern, researchers say it can help push a protocol consensus on procedures and practices that tend to see the most mistakes.

For its part, the CDC insists its approach is consistent with international guidelines and that it would be tough to change. For that reason, a spokesman stated, the agency wouldn’t pivot its position unless there was a very compelling reason to do so.

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Additional Resources:

Study Urges CDC to Revise Count of Deaths from Medical Error, May 3, 2016, By Marshall Allen and Olga Pierce, ProPublica

More Blog Entries:

Bove v. Naples HMA – Statute of Limitations in Florida Medical Malpractice Lawsuits, April 29, 2016, Naples Medical Malpractice Lawyer Blog

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