Fatal medical errors common

Medical errors might be one of the leading causes of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer, the two top killers. A new study estimates that errors in hospitals cause between 210,000 and 440,000 unnecessary deaths annually. If the higher number is accurate, that could mean about a sixth of all deaths in New York occur from medical error.

The new study involved poring over more than 4,000 medical records. Researchers examined the records and flagged cases that involved preventable harm. They found serious harm in about 20 percent of the cases and lethal harm in about 1.4 percent. The researchers applied these percentages to the more than 30 million hospitalizations per year to come up with estimates of the overall number of preventable deaths due to medical errors in hospitals. They contend that the actual number of deaths may be higher, because their methods only caught improper treatments administered and not treatment that should have been administered.

A study in 1999 said that the number of fatalities due to medical error was about 98,000 per year. This number has been generally accepted in the medical community since then, but the new studies are raising doubts. A report published in 2010 said that improper care contributed to the death about 180,000 Medicare patients per year.

Now there is no general agreement in medical circles about exactly how many people die from medical error each year. It could be between 98,000 and 440,000. People who have suffered from the consequences of improper care have the right to seek just compensation. Medical malpractice attorneys are sometimes able to investigate cases and determine if medical error was a factor.

Source: Pro Publica, "How many die from medical mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?", Marshall Allen, September 19, 2013

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