Medical errors are the third leading cause of death: Now what?

Nurse Leader Insider, July 21, 2016

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Medical errors account for more than 250,000 deaths each year, ranking it third on the CDC’s list of common causes of death behind heart disease and cancer, but ahead of chronic respiratory disease, suicide, and car accidents, according to a new study published in The BMJ.

Two researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reviewed studies dating back to the Institute of Medicine’s To Err Is Human report released in 1999, which estimated medical errors caused 44,000-98,000 deaths each year, but that particular calculation drew on studies dating as far back as 1984. Since then, there have been several reports further examining death due to medical error, including a 2010 report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that found poor hospital care contributed to the deaths of 180,000 Medicare patients, and a 2013 study in the Journal of Patient Safety that estimated medical errors are linked to 210,000-440,000 patient deaths each year.

“The thing that really bothered us the most was that we couldn’t find recent data,” says Michael Daniel, research fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and coauthor of the study. “Once we realized that, we were concerned there was a gap in what was truly happening.”

The study offers a modern day estimate of the impact medical errors have on human lives. However, it was met with mixed reviews from the medical community. In a response to the study posted to The BMJ, David R. Hoyer, MD, a physician in Houston, wrote that the article was “an insult to all the dedicated, highly trained U.S. healthcare professionals who … take excellent care of their patients” and called on the authors and the publication to issue a retraction.

In an op-ed published in STAT, Vinay Prasad, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at the Centers for Ethics in Health Care at the Oregon Health & Science University, argued that the study merely reiterated old data, and the authors “should have done their own analysis.”

This is an excerpt from the July issue of Patient Safety Monitor Journal. Subscribers can read the rest of the article here. Find out more about the journal, its benefits, and how to subscribe by clicking here.

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