Do you know which the leading causes of death in the USA are? If you’re thinking about heart diseases and cancer, you’re right. Next on the list are chronic lower respiratory diseases and accidents.
However, a new study has emerged, which states that medical errors might be the third leading cause of death in the US, right after heart disease and cancer.
That sounds scary, right? Let’s take a look at the details, shall we?
The CDC facts
The Central for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) complies a list of the most common causes of death every year. The purpose of this list is to inform the public, raise awareness for these diseases and set priorities for future research.
How does the CDC create the list? Well, they use the death certificates, issued by:
- medical examiners
- funeral directors
But this method for defining cause of death has one major disadvantage. There is something called the International Classification of Disease code, which physicians use to classify diseases and medical conditions when they fill death certificates or health records.
You see the problem is that there is no code for medical errors. So if a person dies of a heart attack due to a doctor’s misdiagnosis, the written cause of death will be a heart attack, not medical error.
A new study uncovers horrible facts
Officially, the CDC reports around 150,000 deaths due to medical errors in a year. But in 2016, a new study conducted by Dr. Martin Makary from the John Hopkins University School of Medicine appeared.
Dr. Makary and his colleague Michael Daniel started by studying death rate data (2000-2008) and then hospitalization rates (2013). Using other published studies, they concluded that medical errors cause about 251,000 deaths in the USA in a year.
If you divide this number by 365 days, you’ll see that nearly 690 people die every day due to a medical error. For comparison, 155,000 people die a year from chronic lower respiratory diseases and 146,000 of accidental injuries.
What’s more, the study only encompasses hospital deaths. It doesn’t include deaths at homes or nursery homes, so according to Dr. Makary, the actual number could be even larger.
What’s a medical error?
If a surgeon forgets his instrument in you during surgery, that’s a huge medical error. However, things are not always black and white. Dr. Makary defines medical errors as any intervention that causes a preventable death. His list also includes:
- diagnostic errors
- medicine dose errors
- improper procedures
- communication breakdowns
- failure to do certain tests
As you see, death might not be caused directly by the doctor, but it could be a combination of factors.
Dr. Makary study concludes that there is a rising need for a more accurate way of collecting death data. The researcher also points out that the death certificate should indicate whether the death is related to a medical error or not.
Medical errors are not something we like to talk about, but they happen every day. Hospitals should take a good look at how their system works and create safety nets to decrease the number of these mistakes as much as possible.