Researchers Name Medical Errors the Number 3 Cause of US Deaths

A study released by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine discusses the shortcomings in reporting and tracking death certificate data. After analyzing some prior research, the researchers indicate that there could be more than 250,000 Americans that die from Medical Errors each year. If that number is compared with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official list from 2014, medical errors would rank third right behind heart disease and cancer (each of those took about 600,000 lives).

Medical errors can be the result of a variety of actions, such as surgical complications or misdiagnoses. The researchers define a medical error as:

  • An error in judgment, skill, or coordination of care
  • A diagnostic error
  • A system defect resulting in death or a failure to rescue a patient from death
  • A preventable adverse event

The current reporting system that is in place only captures the underlying cause of death, or the initial condition, that led the person to seek treatment. Even if a doctor does list a medical error on the death certificate, it is not included in the published totals due to the coding used during the reporting process. While this approach may be consistent with international guidelines, it makes it impossible to fully capture the impact of medical errors.

Time for a change.

The majority of people are not aware that medical errors are even a problem. More accurate tracking of cause of death data would help bring awareness to these dangerous underreported issues such as medical errors. In a recent NPR article, Dr. Eric Thomas said that existing estimates are not accurate enough to definitively list medical errors as the third leading cause of death, however, better data collection could be very beneficial.

“If we can clarify for the public and lawmakers how big a problem these errors are, you would hope it would lead to more resources toward patient safety.”



Medical errors can be deadly and devastating. If you or someone you loved has been injured due to a medical error, you may be able to take action. An experienced medical malpractice attorney will be able to help you determine what your options may be. Contact the attorneys at Powers Taylor today for a free consultation.



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