Putting medical error deaths in context

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo & Plotkin LLP

There have been a number of highly popularized studies that variously put the number of fatalities due to medical errors at 250,000 and more. Some of these studies even suggest that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the country, in 2013. But these studies can also be misleading. Medical errors do contribute to fatalities in hospitals, yes, but the studies often fail to dissect how many causes contribute to a person’s death. This post will add some context to those numbers.

One study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which focused on 98,000 of the original 250,000 found that many of the deaths were by patients who were in the “high-severity” of illness or condition. Specifically, 7,743, or 13.6 percent of, patients were deemed very sick and died, at least in part, because of an adverse event.

Furthermore, these numbers comport with the projected expected fatality rate of 13.8 percent for patients in the “high-severity” group. Therefore, this study suggests that the actual fatality rate associated with adverse events and expected fatality rates were similar and therefore it is possible some of the deaths were going to occur, regardless of the adverse event.

Additionally, another study published in 2001 asked physician experts to review cases of hospital fatalities. Their job was to identify how many fatalities were preventable. They were allowed to rate them on a scale from completely preventable to not at all. Unfortunately, not even the experts could largely agree on which cases were preventable and not. The point is that these studies, while important, are measuring a statistic which is inherently difficult to understand.

Were you injured due to hospital negligence? Then you may want to speak to a lawyer and go over your right to compensation. Medical malpractice cases are complicated to prosecute, between reviewing the hospital charts, speaking to experts, and interviewing the medical staff ? it is difficult to parse the evidence. Attorneys that focus their practice on medical malpractice suits have the experience to represent you through your case and obtain a fair settlement.

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