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Medical Errors: The Third Leading Cause Of Death

Imagine visiting a doctor or checking into a hospital and then dying because of a mistake. It's a terrible and unsettling thought, but it's also a very real risk for many Americans.

According to a study from BMJ, released May 3, 2016, medical error ranks as the third-leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. While pinpointing the exact number of medical error deaths is difficult, estimates range from 210,000 to 400,000 a year, according to the BMJ study.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore said U.S. death certificates currently are not set up to acknowledge medical error as a cause of death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not list "medical errors" as an official cause of death because the agency bases its findings on death certificates.

As a result, researchers suggested that accurate data on deaths linked to medical errors is lacking.

In a report about the study, The New York Times used an example in which a patient received a poorly performed diagnostic test that caused a liver injury. The patient then went into cardiac arrest. The cause of death was ultimately listed as cardiovascular, and not medical malpractice.

The study's authors, Martin Makary and Michael Daniel, call for better reporting to help understand the scale of the crisis and determine how to address it. In their analysis, Makary and Daniel were able to break down data in different studies going back to 1999 to calculate a mean rate of death from medical error per year. They concluded that 251,454 die each year because of medical mistakes.

Makary and Daniel say that number may be low. The studies they examined only considered mistakes that could be documented in health records. The studies also only listed deaths that occurred in hospitals.

But even if it's a low-ball estimate, the figure is higher than the number of people who died in accidents. It's higher than the number of people who died from stroke, chronic respiratory disease and a long list of other potentially fatal conditions.

What Is A 'Medical Error?'

Defined by the researchers as "any health care intervention that causes a preventable death," medical error includes a range of mistakes, from surgeons removing the wrong body parts or leaving medical equipment inside the patient's body to nurses giving a patient the wrong drug.

In an interview with the Washington Post, lead researcher Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said miscommunication or a lack of communication also is to blame. For example, a department receiving a patient from another department might also receive wrong information about the patient or inadequate information, which can have grave consequences.

In other cases, a doctor, nurse or other professional assisting a patient might not be to blame. Mistakes sometimes are linked to faulty computer programs, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

If you suspect a loved one died because of a medical error, you need an experienced attorney who can help you thoroughly investigate and discover exactly what happened. An attorney can obtain medical and hospital records for you, and have them reviewed by a qualified expert to determine whether there was malpractice that contributed to the patient's death. New York medical malpractice attorney Jonathan C. Reiter can guide you and hold the negligent healthcare provider accountable.

He has a track record of success, having secured millions of dollars in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients.

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