Medical errors leading to serious illness or even death are known to occur commonly. However, just how big an impact these errors are having on the American population has not thus far been accurately measured. Two researchers from Johns Hopkins University decided to look more closely at the issue, and they came to a startling conclusion. According to the results of their study published in the British Medical Journal, medical errors make up the third-leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer.
The rate of medical errors as a cause of death is difficult to track. Most statistics on causes of death are drawn from data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which gathers its statistics from the death certificates completed by doctors, nurses, funeral home workers, or coroners. Death certificates allow the person completing one to select only from among the codes assigned to diseases by the International Classification of Disease, and “medical error” is not listed among those diseases. An example cited by the Johns Hopkins researchers was that of a woman who died weeks after undergoing a surgery. Although she went home and lived a normal life for some time after the surgery itself, she later came back to the hospital in pain for an undetermined reason. The patient underwent an unnecessary test, during which the physician unknowingly nicked her liver with a scalpel. The woman went home, unaware of the internal bleed. She was returned to the hospital days later when she began suffering cardiac arrest as a result of the bleed, and passed away. Her cause of death was listed as “cardiovascular,” and not error.
The researchers and authors of the study in question looked carefully at patients’ files and doctor notes, as well as extrapolations based on an outdated study of error rates, to estimate how many patients had died as a result of medical errors. They concluded that, conservatively, medical errors kill at least 250,000 individuals every year. The researchers argue that the issue remains largely hidden from the public due to the manner in which causes of death are listed on death certificates, and the fact that most doctor errors are addressed publicly only when a patient sues for malpractice. The researchers called for more public attention and scrutiny of doctor error by making “medical error” a cause of death listed on death certificates.
If you’ve been injured by a medical mistake or other negligent or reckless act committed by medical personnel in Kentucky, seek compensation for your injuries by contacting the compassionate and trial-ready Louisville medical malpractice lawyers at the Slechter Law Firm, at 502-694-5407.