Study Suggests Medical Errors Are a Leading Cause of Death

Robert Sparks Attorneys

Study Suggests Medical Errors Are a Leading Cause of Death

A team of researchers from Johns Hopkins studied data covering medical death rates in the United States from 2000 to 2008, and discovered that more than 250,000 deaths each year can be attributed to medical errors. According to a recent list of leading causes of death in the United States maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only heart disease –611,105 deaths reported in 2013 – and cancer – 584,881 deaths reported in 2013 – rank higher. The researchers defined medical errors as[1]:

“An unintended act either of omission or commission or one that does not achieve its intended outcome; the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution); the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning); or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient. This kind of error can be at the individual or system level.” 

After the research team of Sarah Joo, Michael Daniel, Tim Xu MPP, and Martin A. Makary M.D. released their findings, they sent an open letter to the CDC to ask the agency to update the way they collect vital health statistics around the country in order to properly reflect their findings that show just how dangerous medical errors are. According to Makary, the issue ties back to the fact that there simply isn’t a standardized method to collect the necessary data.

“The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used,” said Makary. 

According to the team of researchers, the CDC uses death certificates filled out by physicians, medical examiners, funeral directors, and coroners to create their list of the leading causes of death, and each cause is assigned an International Classification of Diseases (ICD) billing code. The researchers claimed that these codes are not able to properly account for communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, inadequate skill, or poor judgement, all factors the team looked for during their research.

Updating the list to include medical errors could have serious implications for medicine going forward. According to Makary:

“Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country’s research funding and public health priorities. Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don’t appear on the list, the problem doesn’t get the funding and attention it deserves.” 

No matter how the CDC choses to react to this study going forward, medical errors continue to put the lives of thousands of Americans at risk every single year. At Robert Sparks Attorneys, our Tampa medical malpractice attorneys are dedicated to providing our clients with the care and legal assistance they deserve in their time of need. Give us a call at (813) 336-3348 to speak with an attorney today, or fill out our online form to request a consultation.