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deaths by medical error understated

Number of Deaths Caused By Medical Error is Understated

  • July 13, 2016

A recent study by physicians at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine (“JHU”) suggests that the number of deaths directly attributable to medical errors is understated – perhaps even substantially so. The research, led by Dr. Martin Makary, professor of surgery at JHU, reveals that the understatement may stem from the system utilized in the U.S. to classify the cause of death on death certificates.

Problem in Reporting Deaths Began 65 Years Ago

The JHU researchers trace the statistical understatements back to 1949, when the United States adopted an international system of disease classification to tally causes of death. They say that the system inadvertently “under-recognized” that diagnostic errors, medical mistakes, and other forms of medical error could result in death – not just diseases and conditions.

Almost 10 Percent of All Deaths May Be Tied to Medical Error

Using new methodology, the JHU researchers estimate that based on a total of 35,416,020 hospitalizations from 2000 to 2008, 251,454 deaths were due to medical error – almost 10 percent of all deaths each year in the U.S. The research would elevate medical error to the third most common cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer. The researchers add that significant resources are devoted each year toward treatment and prevention of heart disease and cancer, while insignificant levels of funds are directed to preventing medical error. Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, responding to the JHU study, argue that the existing published mortality statistics adequately capture complication from medical care on death certificates.

Host of Different Factors Make For High Level of Medical Error

The JHU researchers point out that it isn’t just physician error that leads to the high mortality rates. A host of other factors are involved, including:

  •  Poorly coordinated care
  •  Fragmented insurance and medical record networks
  •  Absence or underuse of safety nets
  •  Unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns

Dr. Martin Makary indicated that the development of consensus protocols that streamlined the delivery of medicine and reduced variability could greatly improve health care and actually lower its costs.

Physician Autonomy is a Sore Spot for Some MDs

This last factor – unwarranted variation in practice patterns – strikes a raw nerve with some physicians. While this factor was not directly addressed in the JHU study, medical malpractice experts are all too aware that some physicians feel that anything impinging on their specific medical judgment is unwarranted. Those physicians feel that they should never be bound or even guided by consensus protocols. Medical care critics point out that some physicians are particularly resistant when changing their medical practices, as it could negatively affect their income levels.

Medical Care Isn’t an Exact Science

Medical care, of course, isn’t an exact science. We should not, therefore, expect our methods of capturing medical care data to be perfect. Nevertheless, the JHU study shows that a host of factors can be involved in the death of a loved one. Natural ailments like cancer or heart disease may be present, but so could human error.

Contemplating a Medical Malpractice Claim?

Have you or a family member been involved in a medical tragedy that may have been brought about by malpractice? Did a loved one die due to a medical error? In some instances, you can recover substantial monetary damages for malpractice, but time is not on your side. Medical malpractice claims involve complex issues. There are strict time limits within which a claim must be filed. Experienced, responsive, and aggressive legal counsel is the key to recovery. The law firm of Stenger, Roberts, Davis & Diamond, LLP has the experience and resources to help you recover the damages that you may deserve. One of the most highly respected law firms in Hudson Valley, we have offices in Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls. If you have a legal need, we have a solution. As one of the largest firms in Dutchess County, we have the power to bring substantial resources to your case, no matter how complex the issues. Call us at (866) 290-6929 or complete our online form.

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