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Medical Errors Frequently Go Unreported as Major Cause of Death

Johns Hopkins Medicine has released an open letter asking the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) to add medical errors as one of the top causes of death in the United States.

The CDC releases an annual list of these top causes, and John Hopkins estimates 250,000 Americans or more die each year from medical errors. Their estimation is based on closer scrutiny of prior research, and if accurate, it would place medical errors as the number 3 cause of death in the country.

What are medical errors?

Medical errors can be very serious or less immediately dangerous, but both types of errors can lead to a patient’s death.

More serious medical errors include:

Medical errors that are less immediately dangerous are harder to attribute cause to, but they can still result in death. These include:

These are just a few common examples, and many more types of medical mistakes exist.

Why do medical errors go unreported?

The CDC uses codes on death certificates, and the problem in communicating the severity of medical errors may lie in the agency’s coding.

While the CDC does require complications from medical care to be listed on death certificates – and they do have codes to capture this data – the CDC bases their statistics on the underlying cause of death.

If a person has heart disease or cancer, which are the number 1 and 2 causes of death in America, this is the condition that the CDC counts as the cause of death. This is true even if the patient’s condition was not fatal.

Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, who is one of the authors of the open letter, says this erroneous reporting results in skewed “national health priorities and our research grants.” He stresses that the place of medical care should be as serious a consideration as an underlying condition when determining a patient’s cause of death.

Makary and the Johns Hopkins authors have suggested adding a new question to death certificates. The question would ask if a preventable complication of care contributed to a patient’s death.

Reporting Medical Errors

Reporting medical errors and attributing them as a cause of death is no easy feat. As the authors of the open letter note, however, the first step in addressing this life-threatening problem is to collect data on it.

Dr. Tejal Gandhi is the president of the National Patient Safety Foundation, and her organization agrees that patient harm, which is a more direct name for medical errors, is the third leading cause of death.

She also notes the need for improved tracking and reporting of medical errors as a cause of death, so public recognition and funding for research and solutions might be increased.

Contact Kaplan & Lukowski

If you have been the victim of a medical error, you may have a medical malpractice claim. Or if you believe a medical error resulted in the death of a loved one, you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit. Either way, don’t let these errors go unreported. Those medical mistakes could harm someone else in the future.

Contact Kaplan & Lukowski today to learn more about your rights as a patient or family member of someone who was injured due to medical errors.