Newspaper article

Medical Errors Are Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S., New Analysis Finds

Newspaper article

Medical Errors Are Third-Leading Cause of Death in U.S., New Analysis Finds

Article excerpt

Medical errors are now the third-leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 250,000 deaths per year, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal BMJ.

Only heart disease and cancer take more American lives, say the study's authors.

But even that stunning finding probably understates the true incidence of death due to medical error because U.S. death certificates do not provide a way of acknowledging such errors and because the estimate is based only on inpatient (hospital) deaths, say the study's authors, Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery, and Michael Daniel, a research fellow, at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.

Even so, the new estimate of medical-error deaths is more than 100,000 higher than that presented in a much-publicized 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine) -- a study that Makary and Daniel say was based on limited data and is now outdated.

How estimates were reached

Medical errors are defined in the new study as "an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient."

As Makary and Daniel point out, many medical errors are nonconsequential, but some "can end the life of someone with a long life expectancy or accelerate an imminent death." It was those lethal errors that the two researchers focused on.

For their study, Makary and Daniel examined four studies that examined medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008 -- since the IOM study. Then, using hospital admission rates from 2013, they extrapolated that based on a total of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths resulted from a medical error.

That's about 9.5 percent of all deaths each year in the U.S.

More Americans died of heart disease (611,105) and of cancer (584,881) in 2013, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But if Makary and Daniel's estimates are correct, medical errors shortened more lives than all other causes of death on the CDC list, including chronic respiratory disease (149,205), accidents (130,557), stroke and other cerebrovascular diseases (128,978), Alzheimer's disease (84,767) and diabetes (56,979).

"Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country's research funding and public health priorities," said Makary in a released statement. …

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