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Medical Errors Are Number 3 Cause of US Deaths, Researchers Say. Have you had a close call?

Medical Errors Are Number 3 Cause of US Deaths, Researchers Say.  Have you had a close call?

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine says medical errors should rank as the third-leading cause of death in the United States -- and highlights how shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye. The authors, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, call for changes in death certificates to better tabulate fatal lapses in care. In an open letter (link below), they urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death. Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC's official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and in front of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths. Medical mistakes that can lead to death range from surgical complications that go unrecognized to mix-ups with the doses or types of medications patients receive. The study was published Tuesday in The BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal:

Open Letter

Has anyone experienced a mix up in their dose or type of medicine?


Photo: Hovering sand wasp and shadow, with thanks to Jay for identifying this insect which kept bugging my footsteps as I walked through the scrub.

3 Replies

Hi Neil,

I think this is a very important issue, and needs a major shift in mental attitudes, amongst both medics and patients.

The responsibility that doctors take on, is immense… Everyone makes mistakes sometimes, but when medics make mistakes, the repercussions can be disastrous… Maybe to counteract this, a “never say sorry” culture seems to have emerged, where no doctor or nurse dare admit they made a mistake… This is utterly counter-productive to good patient care, and prevents valuable lessons being learnt from mistakes…  

I can’t see an easy answer to this, except to encourage a “no-blame” culture, where medics are not penalised for honest mistakes or errors of judgement.  A culture where medics are respected for admitting that things could/should have been done better.  A culture where patients are not too quick to sue their doctors when mistakes are made. ( Gross medical negligence is a different  matter though).  

However, deep-rooted attitudes don’t change overnight. It sounds like a good start, to list “medical errors” amongst causes of death. But I think most doctors will be VERY reluctant to admit such errors officially on a death certificate…  Well not until the “never say sorry” culture changes…   Hearts and minds need to change, not just laws... 



Hi,  I'm still thinking over these issues... I can see it would be helpful to list medical errors on death certificates. But that could give the impression that doctors do more harm than good, as it doesn’t acknowledge how many people are helped by doctors (and have NOT died).

There is also “patient error”. People can die because they refuse medical treatment that might have saved them. But no one’s going to put “refusal to accept treatment” on a death certificate.  

I hope this article encourages people to be their own advocates and work with the medics, rather than cause an over-reaction of fear and suspicion of all doctors, as that in itself can be a cause of death.  



Very good points Paula... doctors need to be careful of over reaching into areas of limited knowledge and patients need to fully disclose everything.


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