A recent study exposed medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States. Surpassed in lethality only by heart disease and cancer, preventable medical errors kill upwards of 251,000 patients per year.
A synthesis of four large studies published in The BMJ (formerly known as the British Medical Journal) and written by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of medicine, the meta-study shows that medical errors are underreported, hidden, and seldom discussed — doctors do not want to talk about the mistakes they’ve made.
Shockingly, even when a patient’s death is clearly the result of medical error, it is not listed as the cause of death on death certificates.
Hospitals guard too tightly the details of cases of fatal medical mistakes, he said: if there was open communication about fatal mishaps, medical professionals would have a greater opportunity to learn about what commonly goes wrong and know what to look out for.
According to the study, “Medical error has been defined as an unintended act (either of omission or commission) or one that does not achieve its intended outcome, the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended (an error of execution), the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim (an error of planning), or a deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.”
Martin Makary, one of the study’s leading researchers, told the Washington Post that the deaths counted in the study include those caused by bad doctors as well as systemic issues such as breakdowns in communication when a patient is transferred to another department in a medical facility.
Makary stressed the urgent need for healthcare facilities to establish standardized methods for reporting medical errors so that nationwide patterns can be exposed, paving the way for hospitals to potentially be regulated as the aviation industry is. It’s a matter of public safety, he said: and, as his report exposes, an extremely urgent one.
A new taxonomy, better data, and new systems
The study talks about a “new taxonomy” that could enable better reporting and therefore better data to help guide national efforts to reduce the number of preventable deaths from medical error.
Recognizing human fallibility and the inevitability of some error, hospitals should bring instances of medical error into the open so staff can learn from them and be better prepared to handle a situation when an error occurs so the patient might be saved. Principles that “take human limitations into account” should become the new standard, the authors state.
Even in a system that may fail to do so, medical practitioners can be held accountable for errors that result from their negligence. When a patient is hurt rather than helped by a health care provider, there may be grounds for a medical malpractice case.
If you believe that you or a loved one may have grounds for a personal injury case that involves medical malpractice, call the experienced personal injury attorneys at Alpert Schreyer, LLC for your free case evaluation. We will listen to you, review your case, and get you the compensation you deserve.