Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death?

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Apparently medical care is bad for you!

According to data from the British Medical Journal, in an article brought to us by Vox, a quarter of a million people died of medical errors in 2013. Medical errors were exceeded as a cause of death only by cancer (585,000 people) and heart disease (611,000 people).  Death from motor vehicle accidents paled in comparison (34,000) – as did death from firearms (34,000) and suicide (41,000).

One problem with tracking deaths caused by medical errors is there is no requirement for hospitals to report or track errors; nor are medical errors reported on a death certificate as a cause of death.  This type of information leads us to the question: how many people are really dying from medical errors? The article admits it is difficult to know with any certainty.

The article does not say this but some medical errors may result from treatment decisions, that is retrospect were not the optimal treatment — but hardly errors nonetheless. Some people may have died regardless of the treatment. Say a doctor administers a clot-busting drug or a blood thinner after a heart attack and the patient experiences a brain hemorrhage. My own father developed a antibiotic-resistant MRSA infection that shut his kidney’s down after being admitted for an aneurysm. Did he die of MRSA, kidney failure or the aneurysm?  His doctor maintained his deteriorating condition from the aneurysm is why he caught MRSA.

Whatever the true answer, even people like Don Berwick, Obama’s Medicare administrator, admits a small percentage of hospital admissions are likely to suffer significant harm from medical errors (maybe 2 percent to 3 percent). One huge example is bed sores patients develop from poor quality care, which later have to be treated. Of the estimated 500,000 Americans who develop bed sores, 58,000 do not survive. Of course, healthy people do not develop bed sores — only those who are somewhat unresponsive or comatose. The article also cites a study in the journal, Surgery, that found over a 20-year period surgeons operated on the wrong area of the body more than 2,400 times and left foreign objects behind nearly 5,000 times. In a couple dozen instances, the wrong patient was operated on.  

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