New research shows that medical errors have become all too common and are actually now the third leading cause of death in the United States.
What makes up medical errors?
These errors include: botched surgeries, medication mistakes and wrong diagnoses.
“Scientists from Johns Hopkins found that more than 250,000 Americans die due to medical mishaps every year, greater than the toll from any major medical condition except heart disease or cancer,” according to CBS news.
The researchers looked at death records over the last eight years to ensure that they have a comprehensive analysis. Dr. Martin Makary, surgical director of the Johns Hopkins Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic and a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine, led the study.
Dr. Makary said that rates for fatalities related to ‘medical care gone awry’ are not tracked in a standardized way. Due to this reason, deaths due to medical errors are not tallied in the same way, as heart disease, cancer and other conditions are when it comes to national data statistics on causes of death. He also said that national mortality statistics are found utilizing billing codes, which don't have a built-in way to recognize incidence rates of mortality due to medical errors.
How was the study conducted?
Dr. Makary and his team evaluated four separate studies that scrutinized medical death rate information from 2000 to 2008, including one by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. CBS reports, “Based on 2013 data on hospitalization rates, they found that of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths stemmed from a medical error. They said that adds up to 9.5 percent of all deaths a year in the U.S.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and cancer is second.
Dr. Makary said that one of the most serious problems is that ‘we in the patient safety research field face, that we run up against, is a problem where there's very little funding for research in making care safer and better’. He also said that part of the issue is that our national funding is informed from our national health statistics; however those statistics do not ‘recognize medical care gone awry as a cause of death’.
What kinds of medical errors are the most common?
Research shows that unnecessary surgery, not calling in a specialist when one is needed, and missing life-threatening conditions such as septic shock also feed into the problem are some of the most common. These instances are said to reflect system-wide problems, such as badly coordinated care and inconsistencies in insurance coverage, among other issues.
Dr. Makary said, “Human error is inevitable. But while we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility, and consequences.”