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How many people die from medical errors?

If you think medical malpractice in New York and the U.S. is an overblown problem promoted by attorneys chasing big settlements, it may surprise you to learn about a recent hospital study led by doctors themselves. According to National Public Radio, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers, led by a resident surgeon, say the result of medical errors is much more significant than previously thought. In fact, they noted mistakes should be listed as the third-highest cause of death in rankings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In analyzing previous studies, the researchers estimate that more than 250,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical mistakes. That places errors in third place on the CDC's annual mortality list, following deaths from cancer and heart disease, which accounted for 600,000 deaths each in 2014. Respiratory disease was responsible for about 150,000 deaths.

Medical errors that go unrecognized, and therefore unreported, range from wrong medication or doses to surgical complications. These types of mistakes are unrecognized because the CDC's coding system of recording data from death certificates is not equipped to account for issues such as misdiagnosed conditions, bad judgment or miscommunication that results in patient deaths. Part of the reason is due to the medical system's emphasis on recognizing medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease and underemphasizing the role of medical care.

The CDC's reporting methods, which follow international guidelines, list only the underlying cause of death, which means that a patient's medical condition is considered the cause of death, despite any errors. For example, a heart patient who dies after receiving the wrong medication is reported as having died from a heart condition. Even if the medication error is listed as causing death on the death certificate, the CDC reporting system records only the heart condition as the cause.

With this inability to account for poor medical care in the mortality rate, the general public lacks awareness of the scope of the problem. Other doctors agree, and people on all sides of the issue call for preciseness in reporting deaths.

This article contains general information and is not intended as legal advice.

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