Medical error is greater risk to patient safety than previously thought

Federal authorities use an outdated coding system that fails to capture deaths from medical error.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine concluded that medical errors are responsible for more U.S. deaths than previously understood. In the 2016 study, they determined that the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC uses a coding system not designed to capture data about medical error, so the official rankings of causes of death have not included it.

The study analyzed eight years of "medical death rate data" and researchers concluded that more than one-quarter million (250,000) deaths annually are from medical error nationally. This would put medical error as the third highest cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer, bumping respiratory disease to number four in the CDC rankings. Overall, this means that medical mistake causes one-tenth of U.S. deaths, according to the researchers.

The CDC has used International Classification of Diseases or ICD billing codes since 1949 to calculate leading causes of death, a system that fails to account for fatal mistakes made in medical-care delivery. It was designed to help doctors bill for services, not to "collect national health statistics," says a Johns Hopkins doctor quoted in the news release for the study.

This doctor also notes that the CDC rankings spur "research funding and public health priorities," so medical error does not get the money and attention it should to increase patient safety. CNBC says that Johns Hopkins has asked the CDC to update how the agency collects death data.

According to CNBC, other studies have estimated that medical-error-related fatalities are even higher than the Johns Hopkins researchers concluded, perhaps as high as 440,000 per year.

Medical errors that can harm or even cause death of patients include:

  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
  • Medication or pharmaceutical errors
  • Surgical errors like operating on the wrong site, procedural errors or leaving objects in the body
  • Inadequate infection control practices
  • Unnecessary or incorrect medical or surgical procedures
  • Failure to order proper testing
  • Failure to follow accepted standards of care
  • Failure to monitor patients
  • Mixing up patient records or test results
  • Poorly trained staff
  • Computer, technology or equipment failure
  • Miscommunication or failure to communicate

Anyone who has been harmed from medical treatment or mistake or whose loved one has died from possible medical malpractice should seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible to understand what legal remedies may be available. For example, a medical malpractice or wrongful death lawsuit may provide money damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

The attorneys of Nield Law Group, APC, with five California offices and one in Colorado, represent the victims of medical malpractice, including surgery errors, failure to diagnose and other mistakes.