Even though hundreds of thousands of people die each year from medical errors, it’s not listed as an official cause of death in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) annual mortality statistics. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States, following cancer and heart disease. So, when people die from a medical error during heart surgery, for instance, the cause of death will be listed as “heart disease” rather than “medical error.”
According to the CDC, “mortality data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) are a fundamental source of demographic, geographic, and cause-of-death information.” The data provided includes all geographic areas of the United States; the information compiled regarding mortality in this country helps determine life expectancy, and the data allows the United States to compare its mortality trends with other countries.
The belief that between 250,000 and 400,000 die each year due to medical error has been challenged for decades. According to sciencebasedmedicine.org, there are 2.7 million deaths in the US each year, so for those numbers to be accurate, between 9-15% of all deaths would have to be due to medical error, and that is just not possible, according to an article from February 2019. The numbers even get harder to believe when we learn that each year, approximately 715,000 people die in hospitals, so for the medical error numbers to work out, between 35-56% of those fatalities would have to be due to medical error.
Medical Malpractice/Medical Error
The definition of medical malpractice is as follows: “Any mistake by a medical professional that results in some type of injury, misdiagnosis, or death. In legal terms, medical malpractice as defined by American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys (ABPLA) “Occurs when a hospital, doctor or other health care professional, through a negligent act or omission, causes an injury to a patient. The negligence might be the result of errors in diagnosis, treatment, aftercare or health management.”
Medical errors can be subtle or they can be egregious. A doctor may prescribe the wrong dose of blood pressure medication or may remove the breast in a mastectomy. A medical error can be missing a crucial detail in a patient’s laboratory results, or it can be over-prescribing too much pain medication in the emergency room. Medical error/malpractice can take many forms including:
- Failed diagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or misdiagnosis
- Ignoring lab results
- Unnecessary surgery
- Surgical errors
- Improper medication or dosage
- Inadequate follow-up care
- Premature discharge
- Disregarding or not taking appropriate patient history
- Failure to order proper testing and failure to properly read test results
Regardless of where you stand on whether or not medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, it’s quite alarming that so many people die because of medical mistakes in this country each year. Authors of the Johns Hopkins study are calling for reforms that would improve the accuracy of the counting of medical errors. In a letter dated May 1, 2019, they asked the CDC to rank medical errors on the list of “leading causes of death” in the United States. At the time of this writing, the CDC had not yet responded to that request.
If you’ve lost someone you love due to medical malpractice, talk to an experienced attorney in your area.