“Medical Errors Rank Third as Cause of Death”

For decades, I have alerted patients to the dangers associated with powerful medications and with mistakes made in hospitals. Previously, estimates were that drugs kill about 106,000 annually in the U.S. and hospital mistakes added about another 100,000 deaths. A new in depth report has been published by Dr. Martin Makary, MD, MPH, professor of surgery, and research fellow Michael Daniel, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which found medical error is the third leading cause of death in America, following heart disease and cancer. Makary’s study was published in the British Medical Journal. Routinely, accurate, transparent information about errors is not captured on death certificates, which are the documents the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and are used for ranking causes of death and setting health priorities. Death certificates depend on International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes for cause of death, so causes such as human and system errors are not recorded on them. Makary’s study calls for better reporting to help capture the scale of the problem and create strategies for reducing it. Makary said, “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.”

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