A new study estimates that medical errors are actually the third-leading cause of death in the United States. In 2013, medical errors were responsible for 251,454 fatalities.
According to the study, only heart disease and cancer outpaced medical errors. In 2013, heart disease killed 611,000 people and heart cancer killed 585,000 people.
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, the estimates would indicate that medical errors outpaced chronic lower respiratory disease, accidents, and stroke in 2014.
The findings were based on studies conducted since 1999 and extrapolate that data to the total number of U.S. hospital admissions in 2013.
However, the authors of the study believe that these findings understate the true incidence of death due to medical error because the studies cited rely on errors extractable in documented health records and include only inpatient deaths.
The authors assert that death from medical error has been understated because such error by health providers is not included in death certificates.
Medical error is not listed in rankings of cause of death by agencies such as the CDC, which is based on death certificates filled out by doctors, medical examiners, coroners and funeral directors.
There is no official disease code for medical error and death certificates rely on these codes. The authors called for better reporting of medical error on death certificates.
Medical error is defined as an unintended act, one that does not achieve intended outcome, failure of planned action or errors of execution, or deviation from the process of care that could result in harm to the patients.
Human error is inevitable and it cannot be eliminated. However, measuring the problem to design safer systems mitigating it frequency, visibility and consequences can be bettered.