Study Indicates Medical Errors are a Top Cause of Death in the U.S.

Research suggests that medical errors, such as drug errors, hospital-associated infections and surgical mistakes, are now a top cause of death in the U.S.

In 1999, many medical professionals and patients were shocked when the Institute of Medicine published a report estimating that medical errors claim 98,000 lives per year. This finding spurred many attempts at improving outcomes for patients, but sadly, medical mistakes remain a serious problem. New research from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine now suggests that even more fatalities result from medical errors each year, making these mistakes a top cause of death in the U.S.

Study Findings

The recent research, which was published in the British Medical Journal, assessed the results of four other large-scale studies, which were conducted between 2000 and 2008. The study produced the following findings:

  • Medical errors cause more than 250,000 fatalities per year, or almost 700 deaths per day, according to the study’s estimates.
  • These fatalities account for over 9 percent of all deaths in the U.S.
  • Only heart disease and cancer claim more lives than medical errors.

Unfortunately, hard data regarding deaths and injuries from medical errors is fairly limited. As The Washington Post explains, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not require hospitals to report information about preventable patient deaths that are error-related. This can make it difficult to track errors and gauge whether these mistakes are occurring more frequently.

Common Errors

Given the prevalence of medical errors, most patients can benefit from understanding some of the most common and dangerous mistakes. In 2012, the Institute of Medicine reported that over 1.5 million patients suffer harm yearly due to medication errors, while about one in 25 contract hospital-associated infections. Central line infections are also a common cause of injury and death.

More egregious medical errors are less common, but they still occur shockingly often, according to other research. For example, in 2012, another Johns Hopkins study estimated that at least 4,000 surgical “never events” occur annually in the U.S. These incidents include wrong-site surgeries, wrong-patient operations and retained surgical objects. In the study, nearly one-third of these incidents caused patients permanent injuries, while over one in 20 resulted in death.

Proving Errors Were Preventable

While some catastrophic medical errors might not be reasonably avoidable, many may arise due to oversights, errors or other forms of negligence on the part of medical professionals. In these cases, victims may be able to seek recompense for their injuries or their loss of a loved one. However, under West Virginia law, they must first secure an opinion from a qualified medical professional stating that the claim is valid and that the victim received negligent care.

Meeting these requirements can be challenging, even in cases that involve significant professional lapses. As a result, victims of medical errors or their loved ones may benefit from a free consultation with us for advice on documenting the incident and pursuing recourse.


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