Medical Mistakes: The Third Biggest Cause of Death

It’s a reality that many people do not like to talk about: mistakes in healthcare. The fact remains that doctors, nurses, and others in the medical field are human and are prone to errors and mix ups just like anyone else is, but unlike those in different professions, the results can be tragic when a mistake is made in a medical context. It has been difficult to get numbers that accurately reflect the number of medical errors that happen annually, something that prompted a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, who concluded that medical error is now the third leading cause of death among Americans.

That should seem like a shocking statement. Medical errors, which by definition are mistakes and therefore avoidable, are causing more American deaths than anything other than heart disease and cancer. Medical mistakes are killing more people than accidents, strokes, respiratory diseases, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and all other ailments that befall us as a nation.

The new data estimates that 251,454 deaths per year can be attributed to mistakes in the medical field, often referred to as medical malpractice. To be clear, these are not deaths attributed to undesirable outcomes from medical procedures but rather stem from incidents where an incorrect surgery is performed, the wrong medication is given a patient, diagnostic tests are done incorrectly, lab reports are misread, or other instances of actual errors that lead to improper treatment, and, unfortunately, death.

Medication mix ups are very common in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and other long term care facilities. Many medications look alike and can be mixed up as a result. Other medications sound similar, allowing a prescription for one to be swapped with a prescription for another. And in some cases, the proper medication is given but the dose is incorrect and can lead to problems.

Diagnostic tests can be an integral part of a physical assessment of a patient and a needed step in determining the proper treatment plan. But if the testing is done incorrectly, if the control used is invalid, or if the results of the tests are not properly interpreted, the tests themselves may be unable to reveal what problems are faced by the patient, leading to an inability to treat a medical condition.

Tragically, far more than 251,545 lives are affected by these mistakes annually as the loved ones, family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors of victims all suffer from the irreparable loss when someone is killed.

Errors may be obvious in some settings and may be admitted by the medical personnel involved. In other cases, it may not be clear that a mistake occurred or there may be action taken to conceal any pertinent information related to the incident. As each mistake is unique and the circumstances around them vary, it is a good idea to speak with a personal injury attorney in the Chicago area if you suspect that wrongdoing may have claimed the life of someone you love.

Prior Blog Entry:

Nearly 1 in 5 Fatal Pedestrian Accidents is a Hit-and-Run, Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Blog, published May 3, 2016.


Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States, by Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post, published May 3, 2016.

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