Medical Error Is Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.A
How Did This Happen.?
By Michelle Schoffro Cook
You’ve probably heard the horror stories—people receiving incorrect drugs, getting the wrong surgeries, having the wrong body parts removed at their hospital visit or having medical instruments left inside their bodies during surgery.
These appalling errors may seem like unlikely occurrences, but new research shows that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the U.S., causing over 251,000 deaths annually, after heart disease and cancer, respectively.
Known as “iatrogenic deaths,” the findings do not include the results of the correct use of medicine and surgery or other forms of medical treatment, only gross negligence and miscommunication that caused the death of those who sought medical intervention for some other condition.
The study, conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and published in the online medical journal The BMJ, found that communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, poor judgment and inadequate skill are the main causes of the errors. They concluded that these medical errors occur both at the individual and system levels.
According to the study, “Medical error has been defined as an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.”
It’s a scary thought that people are dying from their health “care” rather than the disease for which they seek treatment. Actually, more people die from errors in medical treatment than respiratory disease, accidents, stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.
Equally appalling is that death from medical error is not listed on death certificates as a cause of death. Instead, if the medical error caused respiratory or cardiovascular failure, or some other type of system failure, then these results are listed as the cause of death on death certificates.
The problem is not just an American one. The study authors state: “Medical error leading to patient death is under-recognized in many other countries, including the UK and Canada.” And the problem likely goes well beyond these nations, but has been insufficiently studied to date.
Of course, humans make mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable, but to the tune of over a quarter-of-a-million deaths annually? I’d say that goes well beyond error into a category I’d define as “negligence.”
Having personally observed patients being told to wait in emergency waiting rooms when their conditions are critical and having someone close to me nearly die due to misdiagnosis and inadequate medical response, this new research exposes a long-standing and serious disease within the medical system itself.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is an international best-selling and 19-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty, and Cooking (New World Library, 2016).
James Achanyi-Fontem, is a Senior Health Journalist and Communication Consultant. He worked as a health journalist and broadcaster for 30 years with Radio Cameroon and later Cameroon Radio Television, CRTV before retiring in 2005 to engage fully with Cameroon Link (Human Assistance Programme). Cameroon Link is a registered charity, not-for-profit organisation involved in the promotion of community health, humanitarian assistance, promotion of women and child rights through involvement of communities in Cameroon for mother and child health care. Cameroon Link is a partner to Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Farm Radio International (FRI), International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN Africa), World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA). As the intermediary of Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Cameroon Link is engaged to implement a Cameroon Rural Radio story design Programming through an investigative research, which aims to discover through interviewing beneficiaries of health programmes on their interests, documenting and disseminating new ideas about how radio stations produce and air Healthy Communities Radio Programs in Cameroon.