Recent study: medical errors the third leading cause of death

Research indicates that medical errors may actually be a leading cause of death in America.

If a new study recently published in the medical industry publication The BMJ (formerly The British Medical Journal) is to be believed, then medical mistakes have far surpassed such things as lung disease, accidents, stroke and kidney disease as a leading reason for deaths in the U.S. The research, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Marty Makary, analyzed death rate data compiled by previous studies, and found that medical errors, negligence and preventable complications could account for as much as 9.5 percent of all deaths across America each year. This equates to approximately 251,000 people who could be dying not from the underlying condition they sought help for, but from malpractice or negligence on the part of the physicians trusted to cure them.

A call for change

The study's authors claim that the intent of their research is not only to draw much-needed attention to the potentially devastating issue of medical errors within our nation's health care system, but also for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC) to change the way in which death certificates are coded in order to better capture the true mechanism of death, not just the underlying conditions that contributed to it. This, the researchers claim, would paint a much more accurate picture of the impact that medical negligence has on the population.

Instead, for example, of saying that a patient died from "blood loss," or "complications from coronary artery disease," the researchers say that death certificates should be more inclusive, to say that the patient's actual cause of death was in fact a perforated aorta that was carelessly nicked by an inattentive surgeon during a failed bypass operation. There isn't currently a way for standard death certificates to easily denote the presence of medical errors that directly contributed to the patient's cause of death, something that the study's authors say needs to change in order for the problem to be addressed head-on.

The impact of medical errors

Though this study shines light on the issue of fatal medical errors, many examples of medical negligence, malpractice and mistakes don't end up being fatal. They can still be life-changing, however. A failure to timely diagnose Stage I kidney cancer (a very treatable form of cancer with, according to American Cancer Society data, an approximately 81 percent five-year survival rate), for example, can lead to it spreading to the lymph nodes and other organs. Once cancer has spread beyond the point of origin, medical intervention is still possible in many instances, but the chances of survival decrease dramatically, and the treatment protocol may be much more invasive, aggressive and overall detrimental to the patient's health.

Other medical mistakes, including administering the wrong medication (which can cause life-threatening drug interactions) or wrong dosage, operating on the wrong body part, failing to diagnose a stroke or heart attack and misreading X-rays or other diagnostic tests, can also lead to sometimes irreparable harm to patients, leaving them with permanent disabilities.

If you or someone you love has been injured because of the negligence, malpractice or mistake of a nurse, doctor, hospital or other medical provider, you have legal rights. For more information about legal options to hold the at-fault provider accountable for the harm you have suffered, contact a skilled medical malpractice attorney at the New York law offices of Smiley & Smiley, LLP. Call the firm today at 212-986-2022 or toll free at 866-SMILEYLAW - or send them an email - to schedule your free case evaluation.