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3rd Leading Cause of Death? Medical Error

Most people hesitate to question the authority of doctors and hospitals, even though we may suspect something has gone wrong with the medication or treatment a loved one has received while under care.   A recent study done by physicians at Johns Hopkins Hospital suggests that we should be more questioning.  The study found more than 250,000 Americans die each year due to medical errors, making these mistakes the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Errors that can lead to death range from unrecognized complications related to surgery, to mix-ups with the doses or types of medications administered.  Dr. Martin Makary, one of the physicians who conducted the study, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death.

“The CDC’s response is that it only records the underlying cause of death, such as cancer or heart disease.  If doctors did begin to list medical errors on death certificates, those statistics wouldn’t show because the CDC’s published mortality statistics count only the ‘underlying cause of death,’ which is defined as the condition that led a person to seek treatment,” said Jeffrey Freedman, Managing Attorney, Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC.  “This really leaves it up to the family to question providers regarding the care of their loved ones.  If a death has occurred due to a medical error, the family should pursue fair compensation for suffering and loss through a medical malpractice law suit.”

The authors of the study say that because we don’t know the full impact of medical errors, the problem doesn’t get enough public attention, which in turn means there is little research done regarding this problem.

“It is uncomfortable for a doctor to report a patient died as a result of a medical error.  It leaves both him and the facility vulnerable to medical malpractice cases,” Freedman said.  “However, as the doctors who did this study say, if the public knew these problems occurred as frequently as they do, there would be more attention paid to patient safety.”