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Medical errors may kill more than previously thought

Ohio residents may be dismayed to learn about a study showing that medical errors could be the third-highest cause of fatalities in the United States. The study, which was published in BMJ, places medical error-related deaths just behind heart disease and cancer.

For the study, doctors at Johns Hopkins analyzed data from four other studies examining U.S. death rates. They estimated that more than 250,000 Americans die from medical mistakes each year. This number is far higher than previous studies have estimated. A well-known 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that between 44,000 and 98,000 people die from medical mistakes each year. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put the number at 180,000.

Further, the authors of the Johns Hopkins study think their estimate is low. One reason is that nursing home deaths are not accounted for in their study. Another reason is that death certificates are designed around billing codes for insurance companies, and the codes do not provide enough details to properly classify many deaths. For example, one patient underwent successful organ transplant surgery and was sent home. However, the surgeon accidentally sliced her liver during the operation, which caused internal bleeding and cardiac arrest. The surgeon's error led to her death, but her death certificate listed the cause as a cardiovascular problem. The researchers believe death certificates should be modified to include a space for medical errors.

Families who believe they have lost a loved one to a mistake by a health care practitioner or facility may want to have legal assistance in filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. These types of lawsuits are complicated, and defendants will have an array of attorneys trying to counter the claim.

Source: CNN, "Medical errors may be third leading cause of death in the U.S.," Jen Christensen, May 3, 2016

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