Medical error as cause of death has been hushed up and under-reported all these years. Recently, a study published in the British Medical Journal revealed that medical error, in a hospital under the care of health providers, is the third leading cause of death in the US.
Frightening, isn’t it?
The authors of the study call for better reporting of cause of death, in order to help collect correct data and create strategies for reducing the problem.
Medical Error is Not Reported on Death Certificates
Medical error is not reported on death certificates. These are the documents that inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as to cause of death. These are the documents that provide the statistics that are used to decide which research is funded based on public health priorities.
Currently, the reason for death on a death certificate has to fall under an established ICD code (these are billing codes). The researchers contend that moving away from this requirement could increase awareness of true causes.
Cancer and heart disease are numbers one and two and get plenty of funding. But since medical error is not on the list, it is not funded. The list is created using death certificates which are filled out by physicians, funeral directors, medical examiners, and coroners.
Authors of the study, Martin Makary, MD, MPH, professor of surgery, and research fellow Michael Daniel, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said,
Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics. The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used.
In the past, medical error has been hushed up and ignored.
Of course alternative practitioners have been acutely aware of this problem for years, but no one has listened.
This is very important research as it exposes flagrant neglect of a serious problem.
Four studies that analyzed medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008 were examined. For instance,
A 2004 report of inpatient deaths associated with the Agency for Healthcare Quality and Research Patient Safety Indicators in the Medicare population estimated that 575,000 deaths were caused by medical error between 2000 and 2002, which is about 195,000 deaths a year.
Similarly, the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General examining the health records of hospital inpatients in 2008, reported 180,000 deaths due to medical error a year among Medicare beneficiaries alone…
If this rate is applied to all registered US hospital admissions in 2013 it translates to over 400 000 deaths a year…
These deaths occurred in a hospital under the care of licensed health care providers. This does not include doctors’ offices, nursing homes and ambulatory care centers.
Astonishing that no one has addressed these frightening statistics until now.
This puts medical error above the previous third-leading cause, respiratory disease.
Medical Error is Complex
There can be several reasons for medical errors. These are:
- 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).
- A deviation from the process of care that may or may not cause harm to the patient.
- Patient harm from medical error can occur at the individual or system level. (source)
New Strategies Suggested
The authors of this study suggest three changes:
- Make errors more visible so they can be understood.
- Changing the death certificate to include a field asking about any preventable complications that may have been present.
- Hospitals should carry on an independent investigation as to whether any deaths are due to error.
More standardized data collection are also needed to report an accurate account of the problem.
Clearly, hospitals and doctors have no real incentive to report errors they make – and most errors may be due to system failures and overuse of pharmaceuticals.
How to Avoid Medical Error
The most obvious way is to stay out of the hospital! After that, you need to arm yourself with health information to prevent chronic illness that requires the care of physicians and their approach of symptom control with pharmaceuticals.
The best way to avoid the potential for medical error is to be your own health advocate and take your health into your own hands. Learn more about improving your heath and the health of your loved ones!
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