Common Medical Errors Are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Common Medical Errors Are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Common Medical Errors Are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. 150 150 Panter, Panter & Sampedro

According to a new study, medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, preceded only by heart disease and cancer. The study, which came out in the Washington Post last month, announces that medical errors kill a staggering 251,000 people every year. That means every day, 700 lives are lost due to medical errors, accounting for 9.5 percent of all deaths every year.

Medical errors declared an “epidemic”

To be clear, the term “medical errors” refers to everything from bad doctors to communication breakdowns when patients are transferred from one department to another. Martin Makary, professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University who led the new research, stated, “It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”

It wasn’t until fairly recently that patient safety became a hot topic. In 1999, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report came out that called preventable medical errors an “epidemic.” This shocked the medical establishment and sparked a debate about what should be done. Interestingly, little change has taken place since the report came out. According to the article, the only real change that has occurred is that hospital-acquired infections have decreased.

Reporting of medical errors not required

While it seems obvious that hospitals would be required to report on medical errors to the public, this is not the case. While providers claim patient safety is their number one priority, few provide the public with information on actual cases where a medical error took place. On the same note, Center for Disease Control (CDC) doesn’t require reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths through billing zip codes, so it’s tough to know what is really happening on a national level.

Hospitals should be held to the same public safety procedures as other industries

In the Washington Post article, Kenneth Sands, director of healthcare quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, reports, “There has just been a higher degree of tolerance for variability in practice than you would see in other industries.” For instance, he goes on to say that in the airline industry, when passengers board a plane there are standard ways attendants move around them, talk to them and prepare them for flight. However, such standardization isn’t seen at hospitals, making it difficult to figure out where errors are occurring and how to fix them.

Dr. Makary also used the airline analogy, “When a plane crashes, we don’t say this is confidential proprietary information the airline company owns. We consider this part of public safety. Hospitals should be held to the same standards.”

Another element often overlooked is the number of patients that are severely injured due to medical error. Some estimates are close to 40 times the death rate of medical error victims. These statistics are no doubt staggering and should prompt change within the medical establishment as well as on a governmental level. However, any real change has proven to be slow in coming.

Medical error and negligence is not a matter to be taken lightly, as livelihoods are at stake. If you or a loved one has suffered injury or death due to a medical error, you should seek quality legal assistance immediately.

At Panter, Panter and Sampedro, our focus is on protecting the rights of people who have been injured due to the negligence of others. We take great pride and care in maximizing each client’s recovery and are willing to put in the work to make sure your rights are protected at the highest level. Contact us for a free consultation.


Eunjung Cha, A. (2016, May 03). Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States. Retrieved June 03, 2016, from

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