Preventable Medical Errors: A Leading Cause Of Death

Medical Malpractice Mistakes

A new study that has been published by the Journal of Patient Safety states that the number of people who die from preventable errors in hospitals is between 210,000 and 440,000 a year.  This makes preventable errors the third leading cause of death in the United States, the first two being heart disease and cancer.  This number was much higher than expected.

In most cases, the patients were not dying from the disease or injury that led to them initially being admitted to the hospital.  Rather, their deaths are caused by errors that were made in the hospital that could have been prevented.

These newest findings are based on the research of John T. James, Ph.D.  He analyzed four recent studies that used the “Global Trigger Tool” to flag evidence of medical errors.  Such errors included medication errors, surgical errors, abnormal laboratory results and preventable infections.  Based on a weighted average of these four studies it was concluded that at least 210,000 deaths were due to preventable harm in hospitals.  However, due to limitations of the tool as well as incomplete medical record, James said the number may actually be double that amount.

There are an estimated 954,000 doctors practicing in the United States.  This is a shortage of about 150,000.  These doctors issue nearly three billion prescriptions, 130 million emergency room visits, just over 35 million discharges from hospitals, and 51.4 million medical procedures in hospitals every year.

When examining the medical profession as a whole, the number of deaths from exposure to medicine may actually be lower than statistics show.  Prescriptions are not issued by doctors without forethought due to the risks all medications carry.

A significant number of people do not go to see a doctor until their health issues become severe, leading to complications in treatment.  Some patients abuse prescriptions or do not take as they should, and patients can fail to follow a doctor’s advice.  In some cases, patients are allergic to medications or are unable to tolerate them, and unfortunately the doctor does not realize that there will be an adverse reaction until the medication has been dispensed and tried.

The action and progress with regards to patient safety has been slow.  James hopes that these latest estimates will lead to change and an increase in vigilance in medical care so that the problem of patients being harmed in hospitals will be addressed.

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