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New Study Finds Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S. is Medical Error

The latest study on deaths in America indicates that the third leading cause is medical errors.  

A professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is asking the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to correct its records and list medical errors as the third most common cause of death in the United States with 251,454, following heart disease (614,348) and cancer (591,699). Dr. Martin Makary, a cancer surgeon and professor of health policy and management, examined four separate studies involving medical error from 2000-08 and found that more than a quarter of a million U.S. hospital patients die each year as a result of a medical error.

But the under-estimation of these numbers, according to Dr. Makary, is that the CDC does not allow physicians, medical examiners, coroners and funeral directors to list medical error as a the cause of death, he said in his open letter to the CDC.  

"The U.S. government and private sector spend a lot of money on heart disease, research and prevention. They also spend a lot of money on cancer research and prevention. It is time for the country to invest in medical quality and patient safety proportional to the mortality burdens it bears," he later wrote in a paper published in the British Medical Journal.

Medical errors cost taxpayers some $4.4 billion each year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services' Inspector General.

Dr. Makary defined medical error from scientific literature as falling in one of four categories:

*"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."

As Dr. Makary points out, hospitals are more interested in a medical coding system as to what caused a death in order to maximize billing for services. Hospitals are not interested in collecting accurate health statistics for purposes that may help the sick population.

So when someone dies from cancer that went undiagnosed, it would likely be coded as cancer, when in fact that patient may have been saved had a correct diagnosis been made in time. That means that the same mistake could happen again and again, with hospitals and health care providers ignoring the underlying problem.

It also is the reason why heart disease, cancer and what the CDC finds as the third leading cause of death - chronic lower respiratory disease (147,101) - get the bulk of the country's research funding and are considered health care priorities, when instead mistakes made in hospitals surpasses respiratory disease, and preventative measures to avoid errors should be a primary focus in providing adequate health care.

In the meantime, conservative politicians and insurance companies continue to spin their fabricated story that it is lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that are causing health care costs to rise when the civil justice system is the only mechanism in place to hold those accountable who make tragic, often deadly, mistakes. "It is time for the country to invest in medical quality and patient safety proportional to the mortality burden it bears," Dr. Makary wrote.

As Dr. Makary points out, "Developing consensus protocols that streamline the delivery of medicine and reduce variability can improve quality and lower costs in health care."  

Transparency also will really bring about better medicine and this is just the beginning of trying to get to the bottom of reining in medical costs and helping patients feel more safe before they undergo a procedure in a hospital setting.

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