A John Hopkins study places medical errors toward the top of the list of deaths in the United States

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According to the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 65, No. 2, February 16, 2016, a 95 page report based on death certificate data from all 50 states and Washington D.C. filed in 2013, the top three causes of death are noted as Diseases of the Heart, Malignant Neoplasms (cancer), and Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases. However, a new study by a team at John Hopkins, and published via the British Medical Journal (BMJ), cite that medical errors are more likely the third leading cause of death in the United States.

According to the study where JHU analyzed medical death rate data for an eight year period, from 2000 to 2008, researchers were able to calculate that a total of 251,454 deaths resulted from medical errors of some type. This figure was based on 35,416,020 hospitalizations and represents 9.5 percent of all deaths in the United States.

This newly discovered figure far outweighs the number three leading cause of death in the U.S., Chronic Lower Respiratory Diseases, responsible for some 114,205 deaths which was 5.7 percent of all deaths n 2013.

“Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics,” says Martin Makary, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an authority on health reform. “The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used.”

According to Makary, medical errors are unintentionally excluded from national health statistics because of the lack of recognition but that many of these deaths are caused by diagnostic errors, medical mistakes, and an absence of safety nets.

Makary also states that the purpose of the CDC’s report is to inform the nation’s “research funding and public health priorities”. Since medical errors has no appearance on this list, it does not receive funding or attention.

The researchers say that the majority of the problems that lead to medical errors are systemic in nature - poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, and the absence or underuse of safety nets or other protocols.

Makary closes by saying “Developing consensus protocols that streamline the delivery of medicine and reduce variability can improve quality and lower costs in health care. More research on preventing medical errors from occurring is needed to address the problem.”