'Medical Errors' Kill 250,000 Americans a Year
In most jobs, making a mistake might result in a slap on the wrist. In medicine, it can kill. In fact, according to a new study published in The BMJ, every year medical errors cause or contribute to more than 250,000 deaths in the United States. That stunning number makes "medical error" -- a designation that, incidentally, does not currently appear on death certificates in the U.S. -- the third leading cause of death in the country, far outpacing chronic respiratory disease (149,000 deaths per year).
As the study's co-author, Martin Makary of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, points out: "Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country's research funding and public health priorities. 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."
In their study, the authors argue that medical errors should be classified as a recognized, separate cause of death on medical certificates. Until that happens, researchers, public health organizations, doctors and, of course, patients will not have a realistic and complete grasp of the frightening scope of the issue.