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Medical Mistakes Take Heavy Toll

Heart disease and cancer are easily the top two causes of death in the United States, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The third leading cause of death, contributing more than one-quarter of a million fatalities a year, is medical errors. The study calculated that 9.5 percent of deaths in this country, or 251,454, were the result of mistakes made by doctors, nurses and other health care workers. The prominent position of medical mistakes may come as a surprise to many, as the health care industry works hard to downplay their prevalence.

The research included a number of different mistakes in its analysis. Medical errors included everything from surgical errors to patients getting lost in the shuffle while being transferred between departments. The frequency of these mistakes shows that little progress has been made since patient safety first drew national attention after a famous study conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. That 1999 study concluded that medical errors were causing 98,000 deaths a year, a number far higher than previously estimated. 

Medical malpractice is not limited to cases where a patient dies due to substandard care. While this study focused exclusively on fatalities, countless other medical errors lead to severe injuries to patients. One doctor affiliated with a health care consultant group suggested that injury rates could be 40 times higher than fatality rates. If that estimate is correct, more than 10 million patients per year suffer serious injuries due to medical mistakes.

Sources: The Washington Post, "Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States," by Ariana Eunjung Cha, 3 May 2016 

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