Medical Errors is now the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States

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Medical Errors

A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine show that more people are dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.  As reported recently by the New York Times, this new study by patient safety researchers provide some content as to why “medical errors” in hospitals and other health care facilities may now be the third leading cause of death in the United States — claiming 251,000 lives every year, more than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s. Their analysis was recently published in the BMJ.  According to Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research, the reason for medical errors as the third leading cause of death is because of everything from bad doctors to more systemic issues such as communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another. Even though providers emphasize patient safety and facilities tout the various safety committees and protocols they have in place, few facilities or providers provide the public with specifics on actual cases of harm due to mistakes. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths through billing codes, making it hard to see what’s going on at the national level.  Makary opines, based on their research, that 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.  He would also like to see facilities measuring the problem as the first step.  Even though hospitals are currently investigating deaths where medical error could have been a cause, they are under-resourced.  Makary wants the medical community to study the patterns nationally.

The New York Times also interviewed Kenneth Sands, who oversees health care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School.  He found that the surprising thing about medical errors is the limited change that has taken place since the IOM report came out. Only hospital-acquired infections have shown improvement. “The overall numbers haven’t changed, and that’s discouraging and alarming,” he said to the news agency.   According to Sands, one of the main barriers is the tremendous diversity and complexity in the way health care is delivered.  He thinks there is a higher degree of tolerance for variability in practice than you would see in other industries.  He would like to see the government work with institutions to try to find ways improve on this situation.

Frederick van Pelt, a doctor who works for The Chartis Group, a health care consultancy, was also interviewed for this article.  He said another element of harm that is often overlooked is the number of severe patient injuries resulting from medical error.  He found that some estimate would put this number at 40 times the death rate.

Have you or a loved one been injured, or have had a family member who has died as a result of medical errors?  Contact us at Edwards & Ragatz, P.A. for a free consultation at  (904)399-1609 or toll free at (800)366-1609.

In 1999, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report calling preventable medical errors an “epidemic” shocked the medical establishment and led to significant debate about what could be done.

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