Preventable medical errors are third leading cause of death in the U.S., new study finds

by Eric Pearson

A new study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) estimates that at least 251,454 patients in the U.S. die annually due to preventable medical errors. The researchers behind the study said that the true number of U.S. medical deaths was probably much higher since nursing home deaths and deaths at home were not included in their estimates.

The BMJ study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, said that the majority of medical errors go unreported in official medical records. If the researchers’ estimates are correct, it would make medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer, and ahead of other common causes of death such as lower respiratory diseases like emphysema and bronchitis.

The estimates contained in the BMJ study were much higher than previous research estimating the number of U.S. deaths due to medical errors by doctors, nurses, or other medical staff.  A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine placed the number of annual deaths in the U.S. due to medical errors at between 44,000 and 98,000 per year. Other studies have placed the number of deaths each year due to medical errors at about 195,000.

Experts say that one reason for the discrepancy between the BMJ study estimates and those made in previous research is the haphazard manner in which deaths due to medical errors are recorded on death certificates in the U.S. In one case, a patient who died due to an accidental cut made by doctors on her liver during an organ transplant follow up was listed as having died due to a cardiovascular issue on the death certificate.

One reason for this problem, experts say, is that there is no space on a death certificate for medical staff to list whether the death was related to a medical error. The authors of the BMJ study say that adding such a space would help to improve the reporting of deaths due to medical errors, which could in turn help doctors avoid these fatal errors in the future. Other improvements, such as requiring bar codes on surgical equipment to decrease the odds that these items could be left in a patient’s body after surgery, could also help to reduce the number of deaths due to medical errors.

The authors of the BMJ study say that although there is a strong ethical case for these kinds of safety improvements, hospitals and other medical facilities have little financial incentive to make these changes voluntarily. The researchers pointed to the lack of funding for research into preventable medical errors and the deaths resulting from them as one reason for the limited progress in addressing the problem in the U.S.

Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Filed by Heygood, Orr & Pearson

Patients depend on doctors and other medical professionals for their health and well-being. When a patient puts their life in someone else’s hands, they deserve to receive the best possible care and treatment. However, too often patients find themselves the victims of medical negligence. Studies have shown that the majority of these deaths were easily preventable.

Medical malpractice incidents may take on a number of forms, including the misdiagnosis of an injury or illness, failure to diagnose, medication errors including opioid overprescription or overuse of anesthesia, failure to obtain a complete and accurate patient history, surgical errors, treatment delays, preventable infections, use of defective medical equipment, or unnecessary medical procedures. When medical errors such as these lead to the wrongful death of patients, the doctors and hospitals that were responsible may be held accountable for their negligence in a court of law.

The lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson have the knowledge, experience and financial resources necessary to prosecute even the most complex medical negligence case. Our law firm has successfully represented many victims of medical malpractice, securing numerous verdicts and settlements on their behalf. Our firm’s success in medical malpractice and wrongful death cases is due in large part to the fact that we are real trial attorneys and have tried hundreds of cases to verdict.

If believe that you or a loved one have been hurt as a result of medical malpractice or negligence on the part of a doctor, hospital, or medical staff, you may qualify to file a lawsuit and seek compensation for your injuries, medical bills, and other costs. For a free legal consultation about your case and to learn how we may be able to help with your case, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson by calling us toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by following the link to our free case evaluation form and answering a few simple questions to get started.

by Eric Pearson

Eric Pearson is a licensed attorney and a partner at HO&P who handles commercial and personal injury lawsuits. Eric has been selected to the Super Lawyers List, a Thomson Reuters publication.