According to a recent report published in The BMJ - an online international peer-reviewed medical publication formerly known as the British Medical Journal - medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, behind only heart disease and cancer.
In fact, this report, which was authored by two researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, determined that more than 250,000 people die each year because of medical mistakes - a conclusion based on extrapolated data and the review of various studies published since 1999.
While this number may be surprising to some, it is important to keep in mind that death certificates typically do not report medical errors as a cause of death, and therefore they are not tracked in most reports, including many of the reports compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For example, in its most recently released National Vital Statistics Report, the CDC only listed heart disease, cancer and COPD as the three leading causes of death in the U.S. But, with only roughly 149,000 deaths, COPD would fall well behind medical errors if they were included in the list.
Can anything be done?
Even though the authors of this report acknowledge that human error is inevitable, they still believe it is important to design a system that can better track medical errors and mistakes and their consequences. They also advocate for a three-step process for reducing medical-related deaths, including: 1) making errors more visible; 2) having remedies instantly available to save patients; and 3) making errors less frequent by adhering to guidelines that consider human limitations.
While it remains to be seen whether this study will have an impact on the healthcare industry, one thing remains clear: medical mistakes will continue to occur. If you or loved one has been injured in a medical mishap, you need to speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. A skilled lawyer can explain your options and help ensure your rights are protected.