Medical errors now the 3rd leading cause of death in the US

A study published in the prominent medical journal BMJ concluded that errors by doctors and hospitals kill more than 250,000 people a year in the U.S.  That's more than strokes, respiratory disease, and Alzheimer's.

Washington Post:

Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research, said in an interview that the category includes everything from bad doctors to more systemic issues such as communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another.

A study published in the prominent medical journal BMJ concluded that errors by doctors and hospitals kill more than 250,000 people a year in the U.S.  That's more than strokes, respiratory disease, and Alzheimer's.

Washington Post:

Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the research, said in an interview that the category includes everything from bad doctors to more systemic issues such as communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another.

"It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care," Makary said.

The issue of patient safety has been a hot topic in recent years, but it wasn't always that way. In 1999, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report calling preventable medical errors an "epidemic" shocked the medical establishment and led to significant debate about what could be done.

The IOM, based on one study, estimated deaths because of medical errors as high as 98,000 a year.  Makary's research involves a more comprehensive analysis of four large studies, including ones by the Health and Human Services Department's Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that took place between 2000 to 2008. His calculation of 251,000 deaths equates to nearly 700 deaths a day -- about 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States.

Makary said he and co-author Michael Daniel, also from Johns Hopkins, conducted the analysis to shed more light on a problem that many hospitals and health care facilities try to avoid talking about.

Though all providers extol patient safety and highlight the various safety committees and protocols they have in place, few provide the public with specifics on actual cases of harm due to mistakes. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't require reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths through billing codes, making it hard to see what's going on at the national level.

The CDC should update its vital statistics reporting requirements so that physicians must report whether there was any error that led to a preventable death, Makary said.

"We all know how common it is," he said. "We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed."

This is unacceptable.  Ten percent of deaths in the U.S. are due to doctor and hospital mistakes errors that could be avoided with a change in procedure and protocols? 

No wonder health care costs are through the roof.  This kind of negligence results in lawsuits that increase the cost of liability insurance that affects the fee for service pricing most doctors and hospitals use. 

Then there is the largely unspoken problem of incompetent health care providers.  Doctors are considered by some to be gods, and getting rid of a surgeon or physician who makes these preventable errors is difficult.  And many nurses belong to unions that zealously protect even those who have no business providing care to patients.

My father used to jokingly explain his aversion to doctors by saying that "50% of them graduated in the bottom half of their class."  I doubt whether that's true, but it gives you something to think about the next time you enter a hospital.