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Over 250,000 Deaths Per Year Can Be Traced Back to a Medical Mistake


According to a study published in the BMJ earlier this year, medical errors should be considered the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The research team, led by Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, assert that 251,000 people die every year due to these errors. If their estimates are correct, that would only place medical errors behind heart disease, which kills an estimated 614,348 people each year, and cancer, which kills an estimated 591,699 people each year.

The research, co-authored by Michael Daniel, Sarah Joo, and Tim Xu, all from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as well, was conducted in order to shed light on what they and Makary believe is an issue that medical professionals avoid talking about.

According to the researchers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require medical professionals to report these types of errors in the data it collects about hospital deaths, which makes it difficult to properly track these figures at a national number. The researchers sent an open letter to the Director of the CDC Dr. Thomas Frieden, asking him to change the way the agency collects health statistics in order to properly account for what they believe is a major issue.

“The list of most common causes of death published is very important--it informs our country’s research and public health priorities each year. The current methodology used to generate the list has what we believe to be a serious limitation. As a result, the list has neglected to identify the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—medical error.”

In their letter, the researchers explained their definition of what they counted as a death caused by a medical error[1]:

  1. An error in judgement, skill, or coordination of care
  2. A diagnostic error
  3. A system defect resulting in death or a failure to rescue a patient from death
  4. A preventable adverse event

The researchers claimed in the letter that the CDC’s death collection system, while it was consistent with guidelines set by the World Health Organization (WHO), only tracked causes of death resulting from injuries, morbid conditions, and diseases. They suggested that until the CDC can properly implement a way to include medical errors in their reports, it should include medical error as the third leading cause of death. The current number three, respiratory disease, kills an estimated 149,205 people each year, a far smaller figure than what they believe medical error to be.

Medical errors that lead to further suffering, let alone death, are unacceptable. At Domina Law Group, our medical malpractice attorneys are dedicated to representing the needs of our clients across the country. If you have a loved one who was killed due to a medical error, contact us today for a case evaluation, or call us to set up a meeting with one of our attorneys.

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