Medical Errors are More Common and More Lethal

Medical errors are gaining more attention as a whopping one-fifth of Americans admit to having personally experienced one. At the same time, Johns Hopkins University has released a new study that reports medical errors may be the third highest cause of death in America. With America’s healthcare industry continuing to reshape itself, healthcare advocates worry that unintentional harm caused to patients may not be receiving enough attention.

med-errorIn a survey of over 2,500 Americans by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement/National Patient Safety Foundation, most Americans reported generally positive experiences with the healthcare system. However, a full 21 percent reported that they had personally experienced a medical error. According to the survey, the most common errors were related to a person’s diagnosis and were most common in an outpatient care.

Sadly, when these errors occur they can often have serious consequences. The report describes negative effects from medical errors affecting everything from patient safety to personal finances. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the emotional health of the patient and family relationships were also commonly reported.  Fortunately, almost half of those who felt there was an error brought it to the attention of hospital staff or medical personnel. This is linked to another notable finding in the survey, 80 percent of respondents said patient safety was the responsibility of healthcare providers and their family.

A report by Johns Hopkins University has also heightened scrutiny on medical errors by declaring it the third-highest cause of death in the country. The report chastises the Centers for Disease Control for not allowing death certificates to capture the more nuanced explanations for a person’s death – such as communication breakdowns between providers and patients, diagnostic errors, and surgical complications that go unrecognized, among many other factors.

Using a new formula to calculate deaths, Johns Hopkins researchers estimate that 250,000 Americans die from medical errors every year. This would make medical errors the third largest cause of death – behind heart disease and cancer.

According to Dr. Marty Makary, surgeon and researcher at Johns Hopkins, “You have this over-appreciation and overestimate of things like cardiovascular disease, and a vast under-recognition of the place of medical care as the cause of death. That informs all our national health priorities and our research grants.”


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