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May 4, 2016: Medical Error Death Third-Leading Killer in USA, Study Says

Medical Error Death

A study published in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) on May 3, 2016, hypothesized that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

The study estimated that 251,454 fatalities could be attributed to medical errors in 2013.

This figure falls short only to the other two most common causes of death in 2013: heart disease, which killed 611,000 people, and cancer, which was responsible for 585,000 deaths.

The Problem With Counting Medical Error Death

sharingNeedles_1_allMarkary and Daniel’s concern is based on the fact that medical error is not listed in rankings of cause of death by agencies such as the CDC, which is based on death certificates filled out by doctors, medical examiners, coroners and funeral directors. “As a result, causes of death not [included in the reporting system] such as human and system factors, are not captured,” the authors expressed.

Example of Medical Error Death

The study’s authors cited the case of a patient who was recovering well from transplant surgery, but died unexpectedly. “The death certificate listed the cause of death as cardiovascular,” wrote the authors, however “An autopsy revealed that the needle inserted during the pericardiocentesis grazed the liver causing a pseudoaneurysm [a medical error] that resulted in subsequent rupture and death.”

Definition of a Medical Error

Medical error is defined as an unintended act, one that does not achieve intended outcome, failure of planned action or errors of execution, or deviation from the process of care that could result in harm to the patients.


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Authors’ Suggestion to More Accurately Count, Reduce Medical Error Death

Markary and Daniel wrote while “human error is inevitable” and “we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility and consequences.”

The authors called for better reporting of medical error on death certificates, which would achieve “Making errors more visible when they occur so their effects can be intercepted; having remedies at hand to rescue patients; and making errors less frequent by following principles that take human limitations into account.”

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