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Medical Error Cited as Third-Leading Cause of Death in Recent Study

Doctor opening a medical error file

Like anyone, doctors can be prone to carelessness, laziness, or ignorance when on the job. Yet unlike most other professions, these traits can result in lethal harm to others should any errors go uncorrected. While stories of doctor errors leading to permanent or fatal harm to patients are by no means uncommon, it appears that medical errors remain substantially underreported. According to a recent study, physician errors are one of the most common causes of death in the United States.

The recent study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, sought to update the long-outdated existing research on the rate of death caused by medical mistakes. The subject is difficult to study in large part because medical errors often go unreported, in part because of how causes of death are listed on death certificates. When a funeral home, doctor, or coroner is completing a death certificate, they are limited to choosing from among a list of codes published by the International Classification of Disease. Since “medical error” is not included among the list of codes, this cannot be indicated as the cause of death, and only the physical cause can be listed. For example, if a physician accidentally administered twice the recommended dose of a drug to a patient and that patient suffered a heart attack as a result, the cause of death would be indicated as “cardiovascular.”

The authors of the Johns Hopkins study concluded, based on data gathered from medical facilities and past studies of medical error death rates, that approximately 250,000 individuals are killed each year due to medical error. This makes medical error third only to heart disease and cancer as leading causes of death in the US. The researchers urged the medical community to reconsider how it approaches medical error in order to shed more light on the issue and in so doing, reduce the frequency of these errors. The researchers suggest that allowing medical facilities to conceal the true rate of medical errors unfairly denies the public an ability to understand the true scope of the problem. One simple step in the correct direction would be to include “medical error” among the available options as a cause of death on a death certificate.

If you or someone you love has been injured in an incident of doctor error, contact the compassionate and effective Lexington medical malpractice attorney Stephen M. O’Brien III for a consultation on your case, at 859-317-2056.

O'Brien Batten & Kirtley, PLLC is located in Lexington, KY and serves clients in and around Lexington, Keene, Nicholasville, Versailles, Midway, Georgetown, Wilmore, Paris, Bourbon County, Fayette County, Jessamine County, Scott County and Woodford County.

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