Researchers find medical errors leading cause of death in United States

A file photo of Mount Sinai Hospital, New York (Xinhua)

BEIJING, May 5 (Xinhua) — Medical errors have become a major cause of death in hospitals in the United States, according to a recent study by U.S. medical experts.

The new paper published on Tuesday in the medical journal BMJ, shows that errors in hospitals and other health care facilities are now the third leading cause of death in the United States — next to heart disease and cancer, claiming 250,000 lives each year.

As many as one in four patients in hospitals in the United States will have some medical error that they experience, and about half of 1 percent to a little more than 1 percent of these errors could actually be fatal, said Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the research.

“If you extrapolate the numbers to all U.S. hospitalization, that’s where this 250,000 estimate comes from. That’s not even counting people that die at home or sometimes through limited insurance networks or cracks in the system that result in deaths,” Makary told the CBS cable on Wednesday.

In another interview with the Washington Post, Makary said that the “errors” include bad doctors, fragmented care, and more systemic issues such as insufficient communication when patients are transferred from one department to another.

“It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care,” Makary said.

The number of a quarter million is much higher than the 98,000 estimated in a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine, which already called the medical error an “epidemic” in the United States.

However, over 10 years have passed, and the problem still hasn’t gained deserved attention.

“We spend a lot of time and money on heart disease and cancer, but we haven’t even really recognized that the third leading burden on health in America in terms of death is medical error in its many forms,” Makary told CBS.

One reason, said Makary, could be that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t consider medical error to be a cause of death in listing the annual national health statistics, making it difficult to have a clear view of the problem at the national level.

The CDC should, according to Makary, update its statistics reporting system to require doctors to report any error that led to a preventable death.

Moreover, doctors and hospital associations that have started to work on decreasing the error rate found their work “vastly underfunded and underappreciated,” he said.

While for patients, to prevent such a tragedy from happening to themselves, they’d better come to hospitals with family members, who can act as “an important safety net,” said Makary.

He also pointed out the importance of getting a “second opinion” when it comes to making medical decisions.

“About 20 percent of second opinions are different than the first opinion,” the professor told CBS. “So, it’s good to know all the treatment options.”

XINHUANET.com

Onyekere Ifeanyi Mandela

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