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Medical Errors are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

Published on Jun 7, 2016 at 6:52 pm in Medical Malpractice.

Researchers have found that “medical errors” are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people last year than respiratory disease, accidents, and diabetes and stroke and Alzheimer’s combined.  Mistakes made during “life-saving” surgeries, prescription medication errors, and communication breakdown among hospital and other health-care facility departments accounted for almost 251,000 deaths last year, nearly 10% of the total deaths in the United States.  Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine, led the research.  Makary said in an interview, “It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”

It is widely known that medical mistakes occur, yet the topic is rarely discussed openly, and there is little data about medical errors recorded nationally at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Although providers prioritize patient safety and highlight the safety committees and protocols they have in place, very few provide specific information to the public regarding actual cases of harm due to mistakes.  “The CDC should update its vital statistics reporting requirements so that physicians must report whether there was any error that led to a preventable death,” Makary said.


Makary suggests measuring the problem in such a way that is similar to the way the Federal Aviation Administration does in its accident investigations.  In the aviation community, every pilot in the world learns from investigations as the results are widely circulated.  “When an airplane crashes, we don’t say this is confidential proprietary information the airline company owns.  We consider this part of public safety.  Hospitals should be held to the same standards,” Makary said.  Currently, death certificates in the United States do not have a place for hospitals to acknowledge medical error.  When someone dies, there is no clear place for human and system errors to be recorded, making an accurate measurement of the problem very difficult.


There are any ideas as to why so many Americans are dying due to medical error.  Some suggest the reason that death due to medical mistakes is so frequent is a lack of treatment regulations and standards.  Treatment of an illness is delivered in many forms as physicians, caregivers, and patients are often open-minded to the idea that there is more than one way to heal a sickness.  There is greater tolerance for variability in health-care practice than in most other industries.  It has also been suggested that science-based physicians fear that knowledge of medical mistakes will cause sick patients to choose alternative medicine for treatment of their disease, adopting the thinking that conventional medicine is dangerous.  Others suggest that doctors and medical staff do not acknowledge mistakes for fear of malpractice lawsuits.  What is even more alarming is the estimated number of severe patient injuries resulting from medical errors.  Some estimates put this number at 40 times the death rate.  Patients are led to believe that extreme pain and suffering are to be expected following and surrounding a procedure, but this is not always the case.



The reality of the situation remains.  If physicians were required and felt safe to honestly and openly discuss, record, and publically evaluate medical mistakes, thousands and thousands of lives would be saved.  When a mistake is made that results in wrongful death of a patient, and no one is given the opportunity to learn from it, then the mistake is more likely to happen again to another patient.  As patients, we deserve to be able to trust our doctor and the decisions made surrounding our care.  Until the broken system is corrected, our best defense to be a well-informed consumer.  If you wish to learn more about pain, suffering, and death as a result of medical errors, contact Thomas Law Offices for more information.


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Tad Thomas has dedicated his practice to representing plaintiffs in various types of civil litigation, including personal injury, business litigation, class actions, and multi-district litigation.

After graduating with his law degree in 2000 from Salmon P. Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Thomas immediately opened his own private practice and began representing injury victims.

In 2011, Thomas Law Offices was established in Louisville, Kentucky. Over the past decade, Mr. Thomas has expanded his firm and now has offices in three additional locations: Cincinnati, Ohio, Columbia, Missouri, and Chicago, Illinois. He is also a frequent lecturer on topics like trial skills and ethics and technology.

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