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Unsettling Report: Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently published a deeply unsettling report on medical care in the United States. According to the analysis, medical error is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Breaking Down the Numbers

Compared with medical errors, only heart disease and cancer claim more lives each year. The study was published in the BMJ and revealed the following:

  • More than 251,000 deaths are caused each year by medical errors.
  • That comes to about 700 deaths a day.
  • In other words, medical error annually causes 9.5 percent of all deaths in the U.S.

Shockingly, the research shows that medical mistakes cause more deaths than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, pneumonia/flu, kidney disease and suicide.

What Causes So Many Medical Errors?

It has long been known that medical mistakes cause tens of thousands of deaths a year, but this new research is more comprehensive and estimates that the number of deaths caused by medical errors is much higher than previously believed.

Also, measuring the problem has been difficult because hospitals are reluctant to publicly admit when mistakes happen, and there is a lack of standardization in reporting and studying errors.

Still, causes of preventable deaths include:

  • Communication breakdowns between hospital departments and staff
  • Failure to diagnose and treat potentially fatal conditions
  • Medication errors
  • Failure to order or evaluate necessary tests
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Errors in the operating room
  • Post-surgical infections and failure to provide appropriate post-surgical care

According to the lead researcher in the study, "It boils down to people dying from the care they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care."

What Can Be Done to Improve the Situation?

At Davis & Davis, we fight on behalf of individuals and families in Texas whose lives have been changed because of medical malpractice. We know that improvements in hospital protocol can go a long way in preventing medical mistakes, and we advocate for those much-needed changes.

We also fight to hold negligent hospitals and doctors accountable. For more on these matters, please see our hospital negligence overview.

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