Medical Mistakes Now Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S., New Research Says

Posted By Power Rogers & Smith, P.C. || May 4, 2016

Researchers at Johns Hopkins believe that medical errors now surpass respiratory disease, accidents, stroke, and Alzheimer's in number of fatalities caused each year.

Doctors operating on the wrong patient, surgeons leaving scalpels inside patients, wrongful amputations - medical mistakes like these are no longer the stuff of fiction. New research coming out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine indicates that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing former leaders in fatalities such as accidents and stroke.

“Third leading cause” amounts to about 251,000 preventable fatalities every year, making the issue much more severe than previously thought.

The problem is much more nuanced and complex than chocking it up to bad doctors, says Martin Makary, the professor who led the research. Although negligent medical professionals are certainly a factor, there are other issues like communication breakdowns at play.

Ever year, 251,000 patients across the country undergo treatment and end up dying from negligent care rather than the condition that brought them in to begin with.

The previous estimate of 98,000 medical mistake fatalities per year was shocking when the Institute of Medicine (IOM) first released it. Makary's research takes a broader look at the data, compiling information from four separate studies. What he found was more than double the IOM's previous estimate – an estimated 251,000 deaths per year or 700 per day, meaning that 9.5% of all deaths in the United States can be traced back to a medical mistake.

Loose reporting requirements may also be skewing the data, said Makary. Because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not require reporting of errors in the data it collects through billing codes, the problem may even be more significant than this recent research suggests.

While estimates of 700 deaths per day is startling, it is also discouraging to consider that preventable medical error rates aren't getting any better. In fact, many would argue they are worsening. That may be due to a “higher degree of tolerance for variability in practice than you would see in other industries,” said one medical professional.

The first step to remedying a problem is to identify how big its reach is. Only once the extent of the problem is understood can an effective solution be implemented. The medical malpractice lawyers at Power Rogers & Smith are no stranger to medical mistakes. Our passion is not only to fight for justice on behalf of our clients, but to create change in the industry that can prevent these types of tragic errors from hurting others in the future.

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