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Study finds medical errors third-leading cause of death in US

If you were asked to name the top causes of death in the United States, you might answer heart disease, cancer or perhaps stroke.
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    February 28, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/ -- Study finds medical errors third-leading cause of death in US

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If you were asked to name the top causes of death in the United States, you might answer heart disease, cancer or perhaps stroke. Although you would have been correct in naming some of the top causes of death, if you were asked to name other leading causes, you probably never would have identified medical errors. However, a recent study has found that such errors are among the leading reasons why people die each year.

Medical errors as a cause of death

The study's conclusion that medical errors (such as failure to diagnose, hospital errors or surgical errors) are a leading cause of death is not new. Many other studies reached similar conclusions. However, according to the current study, the previous studies tended to underestimate the number of deaths caused by errors.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that 98,000 people die each year as a result of medical errors in the nation's hospitals. Although this number was initially thought to be too high, the study's results quickly became widely-accepted.

In 2010, another study by the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services estimated that the number of Medicare patients killed by medical errors each year was 180,000. Since this estimate was limited to Medicare patients, it was acknowledged that the estimates of the 1999 study were too conservative.

The current study, which was published in the Journal of Patient Safety in 2013, based its estimate on an analysis of patient medical records. It found that in as many as 21 percent of cases, medical errors occur. Furthermore, when medical errors occur, the study found that they are serious enough to cause a patient death in about 1.4 percent of cases. Based on the data, researchers estimated that between 210,000 and 440,000 people are killed each year because of preventable medical errors, making them the third-leading cause of death.

Reason for prevalence of medical errors

Although medical errors occur for a variety of reasons, a separate study published in the New England Journal of Medicine puts the blame on the medical community's "culture of silence." The study found that although many doctors feel an ethical duty to disclose their own errors to others, they are much less likely to disclose the errors of other practitioners.

The reasons why doctors feel that they must stay silent about colleagues' errors are varied. Some physicians rely on colleagues for business or the advancement of their careers and fear alienating them. Others misguidedly want to protect colleagues from disciplinary or legal action.

However, whatever the motives, the end result of this "culture of silence" is that many doctors do not learn from their mistakes and go unpunished for making them. As a result, they continue making them, eventually resulting in a patient's death or injury. As many state medical boards are reluctant to discipline all but the most egregiously incompetent physicians, many escape accountability for their mistakes until a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit is filed.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a medical error, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. An attorney can advise you of your right to compensation and work to ensure that the responsible party's mistakes do not go unpunished.

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