The outcome of a recent study (Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US) at Johns Hopkins University presented troublesome findings regarding medical malpractice in the United States: if medical error were classified as a cause of death, it would be the third leading cause of death in the country. The study examined millions of hospital admissions and found that approximately 250,000 deaths per year could be attributed to medical errors.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compiles an annual list of the most common causes of death in the United States. The causes of death are based on information listed on death certificates, which contain an individual's cause of death. Cause of death can be reported by physicians, funeral directors, or coroners. Death Certificates only allow for certain recognized causes of death based on the established International Classification of Disease codes. There is no recognized code for medical error. The authors of the study advocate for reforming the current system of reporting cause of death to reflect the prevalence of medical errors.
The CDC reported in 2015 that the leading causes of death in the U.S. was heart disease (including coronary heart disease and heart attacks), which was responsible for around 615,000 deaths. Cancer ranked second, as the cause of over 590,000 deaths. Lung cancer caused the most fatalities among cancer types. Chronic lower respiratory disease ranked third on the CDC list, causing 147,000 deaths. The most common fatal lower respiratory disease is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smoking is the main cause of both types of COPD.
The Johns Hopkins researchers pointed out that based on their calculation that medical errors were the cause of 250,000 deaths per year, medical errors would surpass the deaths caused by chronic respiratory disease, landing it at number three on the CDC list.
The authors of the study are calling on the Centers for Disease Control to update its vital statistics reporting requirements so that physicians must report whether there was any error that led to a preventable death.
Some in the medical community have been critical of the study. Dr. Carol J. Huser, a forensic pathologist and former coroner, wrote an essay criticizing the methodology used by the researchers, stating that (the authors) “looked at years-old studies that documented a relatively small number of error-related deaths in a few institutions, extrapolated and came up with a huge number of deaths nationwide.”
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of medical malpractice, it is important to speak to an experienced Illinois medical malpractice attorney, who can make sure the doctor and hospital are held accountable. At Benassi & Benassi, we are committed to getting victims and their families just compensation.