Study: Medical mistakes are a top-ranked cause of death in the U.S.

Although not included on the CDC’s list, medical errors were found to be a leading cause of mortality in the U.S. by a recent study.

It is said that to err is human, but many do not consider that their health care professionals may make mistakes on-the-job. Unfortunately, however, medical errors are an all too common occurrence in doctors' offices, hospitals and other health care facilities in Michigan and throughout the country. As a result of such lapses in care, patients may suffer worsened medical conditions or death. In fact, a study published in the journal, BMJ found medical errors may be among the leading causes of mortality in the U.S.

Shedding a light on the problem of medical mistakes

In order to better recognize the incidence rates of death resulting from lapses in medical care, a group of patient safety experts with Johns Hopkins University conducted a study. To this end, they examined the data from four prior studies that looked at the medical death rate between 2000 and 2008. Using this data and the hospital admission rates for 2013, the researchers extrapolated an estimated number of deaths occurring as a result of medical errors.

Tracking mortality causes in the U.S.

The task of tracking causes of death in the U.S. is handled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, the agency relies on International Classification of Diseases, or ICD, codes for its data collection. As billing codes, these do not allow for medical mistakes as a cause of death. Rather, ICD codes may indicate the reason for which the patient sought the treatment that resulted in a lapse in their care.

Medical errors claim more lives annually than respiratory disease

Based on their analysis, the researchers suggest 9.5 percent of all deaths occurring in the U.S. each year are the result of medical mistakes. The study's estimations suggest 251,454 people died in 2013 due to lapses in health care. This would place medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Based on data from 2014, however, the CDC lists its top three causes of death as the following: heart disease, contributing to 614,348 deaths; cancer, resulting in 591,699 deaths; and chronic lower respiratory diseases, factoring into 147,101 deaths.

The researchers wrote an open letter to the CDC, urging the agency to update its causes of death list to include medical mistakes. Further, they push for changes to the current tracking system so that such human causes of mortality may be included. The researchers suggest drawing attention to the problem is the only way to begin developing a solution. Underreporting the prevalence of medical errors and not discussing them allows the issue to persist, and puts patients in jeopardy as they are not aware of the dangers even routine health care may carry.

Seeking legal guidance

Fatal medical mistakes in Michigan and elsewhere may have a devastating impact on the patients' loved ones who are left behind. Their families be faced with expenses they were not prepared for, such as additional medical bills and funerary costs, as well as the permanent loss of an income. In some situations, the health care provider or medical facility may be held liable for these and other damages. Therefore, those who have lost a family member as a result of a medical error may benefit from discussing their situation and options with an attorney.