Bad News: Medical Mistakes Become the Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S.
New research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) claims medical mistakes have become the third leading cause of death in America, right behind cancer and heart disease. In a strange twist of irony, it seems hospitals may be among the most dangerous places for your health.
A similar study published in 1999 discovered medical mistakes were responsible for 44,000 to 98,000 deaths annually. That number has increased to 251,000 deaths per year.
Readers of our blog have been introduced to various ways patients can be killed while seeking treatment at hospitals, such as misdiagnosis or medication mistakes. If fatal medical mistakes were properly recorded, it is possible they could be prevented.
Unfortunately, gathering data on fatal medical mistakes has historically been problematic for hospitals, as death certificates are often lacking important information.
Can Better Record Keeping Prevent Medical Mistakes?
The study published in BMJ used examples to describe how better record keeping can prevent medical mistakes. One of the examples told the story of a woman who went to the hospital to receive an organ transplant. Unfortunately, during surgery, the doctor accidently cut the patient’s liver. By the time the woman returned to the hospital, she was suffering from internal bleeding. The woman died, but her death certificate made no mention of a surgical mistake, only citing “cardiac arrest” as the cause of death. How can we expect similar mistakes to be prevented if they remain hidden from hospital records?
Researchers claim human error will always exist in medicine, and the best we can hope for are systems that reduce the frequency of mistakes. However, as we have stated in prior blogs, doctors and hospitals could admit to their mistakes to prevent future ones from occurring.
Communication and transparency are essential if our nation can ever hope to prevent medical mistakes from harming or killing patients.