Study: Medical errors round out top three causes of death in U.S.

Based on the findings of a recent study, Johns Hopkins patient safety experts suggest medical mistakes are a leading cause of mortality in the U.S.

People in Connecticut and elsewhere have heard the nightmare stories of medical errors, such as wrong-site surgeries and administering incorrect medications. However, when seeking treatment themselves, few expect these types of errors to touch their own lives. Unfortunately, medical erros are an all too common occurrence, and often result in injury, worsened medical conditions or death for patients. In fact, a study recently published in the BMJ points to medical errors as a leading cause of death in the U.S.

Causes of medical errors

Many health care professionals take an oath to do no harm, yet there are numerous preventable factors that often lead to medical errors. Some of the most common of these factors include communication breakdowns, inadequate coordination of medical care and information, and device or equipment failure. Additionally, inadequate procedures or policies, fatigue, insufficient staffing, and sub-optimal documentation or labeling also frequently play a role in causing potentially fatal medical errors.

Studying patient harm due to medical care

Seeking to assess the contribution of medical mistakes to mortality in the U.S., a group of patient-safety experts with Johns Hopkins conducted a study of the medical death rate. To this end, they analyzed the findings of four prior studies into death rate data between 2000 to 2008. The researchers used hospital admission rates from 2013 to extrapolate and calculate and average mortality rate for medical mistakes occurring in U.S. hospitals.

Medical e should rank among leading causes of mortality

Through their study, the researchers found that fatal lapses in health care are an all too common occurrence in health care facilities across the U.S. Based on their calculations, the study's authors estimated that medical errors accounted for 251,454 deaths. This places lapses in care as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's list.

Currently, medical errors are not listed among the top causes of mortality by the CDC. The research group suggests this is due, in large part, to shortcomings in the current data collection methods. The present system of identifying causes of death uses medical billing codes and death certificates, neither of which recognize medical errors. Rather, people's causes of death may be listed as the reason for which they initially sought medical treatment. The study's authors point to their findings as evidence the current protocols should be updated so patients, healthcare professionals and safety experts may be more aware of the problem and potential threat.

Working with a legal representative

The death of a loved one due to lapses in their healthcare may be devastating for Connecticut families. In addition to dealing with their grief, they may also be forced to face the loss of an income, undue medical bills, funerary costs and other losses. Under some circumstances, however, the healthcare professionals or facilities responsible may be held liable. Therefore, those who have experienced such situations may find it helpful to seek legal counsel. An attorney may explain their rights and help them determine the best course of action given their situations.