Medical Errors Are Now The Third Leading Cause Of Death, Says Johns Hopkins Study

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Tales of wrongly-prescribed drugs and surgeons leaving forceps inside patients have inspired  headlines for years. While it’s easy to dismiss those claims as the stuff of fiction, typically found in medical TV dramas, a new study published in the BMJ suggests otherwise.

A team of patient-safety researchers analysed statistics from hospitals and health-care centers across the country, to determine how many deaths were actually attributed to “medical errors.”  Led by Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the researchers found that 251,000 lives are taken every year nationwide due to these “errors.” As The Washington Post points out, that equals nearly 700 deaths a day, or 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States. That’s more than stroke and Alzheimer’s.

Medical errors now count as the third leading cause of death in the country. “We all know how common it is,” he said. “We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed. It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”

Makary’s study involved an in-depth analysis of four larger studies carried out between 2000 and 2008. They included ones by the Health and Human Services Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

This ties into another study recently published in JAMA concerning the lives claimed by emergency room procedures. Researchers analysed 421,476 patient records from a national database of hospital inpatients, and discovered that a mere seven procedures accounted for approximately 80 percent of all admissions, deaths, complications and inpatient costs related to emergency surgeries.

All seven are related to digestive organs, listed as “removing part of the colon, small-bowel resection, removing the gallbladder, operations related to peptic ulcer disease, removing abdominal adhesions, appendectomy and other operations to open the abdomen.” The sample included only adults who underwent a procedure within two days of admission from 2008 to 2011.

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