June 24, 2016

About 250,000 People Die Each Year Due to Medical Errors

USA Today recently reported on a study that found that approximately 250,000 people die each year due to medical errors, making this the nation’s third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer (see chart below).  The study, by surgeon and Johns Hopkins professor Martin Makary, is the second to reach this conclusion.  (John James, a NASA toxicologist, reached the same conclusion in his 2013 study.)

Determining the number of deaths due to medical errors isn’t easy. Part of the problem lies in how deaths are classified. Death certificates in more than 100 countries, including the United States, use the International Classification of Disease (ICD) code to classify mortality data.  The code does not allow medical errors to be recorded on death certificates, making such deaths difficult to track.

Makary believes that doctors may not  acknowledge mistakes because they fear being sued for malpractice.  Consequently, “he says medical and legal protections are needed, as with hospital quality information, so causes of death are accurately reported,” according to the article.