Hospital deaths on the rise despite efforts to curb preventable medical errors in the U.S., study finds

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by Jay Pate

A new study published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) finds that preventable medical errors by doctors and medical staff may be the third leading cause of death in the U.S. The BMJ study found that about 251,000 deaths each year occur because of medical errors, more than the number of patients who die because of respiratory diseases, accidents, strokes, or Alzheimer’s disease.

The lead author of the BMJ study, Dr. Martin Makary, said that the preventable medical errors catalogued by researchers included everything from medical malpractice on the part of doctors to miscommunications between hospital departments as patients are handed off from one area of the hospital to another.

Concerns about the epidemic of patient deaths due to preventable medical errors first arose in 1999, when an Institutes of Medicine study shocked the medical community after it found that these errors were a widespread problem among U.S. medical facilities. Based on one study, the IOM estimated that 98,000 deaths due to preventable medical errors occurred in the U.S. each year.

The BMJ study involved a comprehensive analysis of four large studies, including research conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services and a study conducted between 2000 and 2008 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Based on this research, Makary and his researchers estimated that medical errors accounted for about 251,000 deaths each year, or about 9.5% of all deaths in the U.S. The two leading causes of death in the U.S. each year, heart disease and cancer, account for about 614,000 and 592,000 deaths per year respectively.

Makary and his team were only able to estimate the number of annual U.S. deaths due to preventable medical errors because few hospitals or medical care centers are willing to provide data on the number of these incidents that occur at their facilities. And because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require medical facilities to identify deaths due to medical errors through billing codes, it is difficult to pinpoint the number of deaths due to medical errors on a national level.

Experts commenting on the BMJ study said that an additional problem is the high number of cases of serious injury that occur due to preventable medical errors. According to Dr. Frederick van Pelt of the health care consultancy The Chartis Group, the number of cases of serious injury caused by medical errors in the U.S. has been estimated to be 40-times greater than the number of deaths that occur each year.

Commenting on the study, Kenneth Sands, the director of health care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said that the most surprising thing about the data is the limited improvement in the number of deaths due to medical errors since the IOM report was released in 1999. Only deaths due to hospital-acquired infections have shown improvement during that time despite the efforts of the medical community to improve communications and treatment to stop preventable errors.

Makary says that the first step in lowering the number of deaths that are caused by medical errors is to increase the sharing of information between hospitals about why and how frequently these errors occur. By sharing information, doctors and hospitals would be able to learn from past mistakes in order to standardize and improve patient care.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Filed By Heygood, Orr & Pearson

Thousands of Americans are killed each year because of negligence on the part of medical caretakers. Although federal agencies have created rules designed to keep the public safe, sometimes hospitals, doctors, or others fail to follow these rules, leading to the wrongful death of patients and customers.

Families who have lost a loved one due to medical malpractice may be eligible to file a lawsuit against parties whose negligence contributed to the death. The first step in taking legal action is to speak with a law firm whose attorneys have the knowledge and experience to handle your case from start to finish and secure fair compensation for your losses in the form of a verdict or settlement.

For more information about filing a lawsuit and to find out whether you may qualify to file a case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001. You can also reach us 24 hours a day by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.