Medical error and patient death have become a far too common pairing. A new study released by the Department of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, MD, has placed medical error as the third leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming over 251,000 victims per year. Published on May 3, 2016, the study looks into the inability of the CDC’s current death certificate coding system to be able to reflect medical error as a cause of death. The current system does not allow for preventable errors in medical treatment to be sited as a cause of death. These medical errors can occur due to miscommunication, incorrect diagnoses, insufficient skills, etc., yet the cause of death will be coded as acute myocardial infarction, pulmonary embolism, acute renal failure, etc. While the immediate cause is listed, its preventable precursor goes undocumented.

By extrapolating the statistics and information available from various agencies and establishments within the medical community, the study’s authors revealed the misrepresented cause of death classifications that have hidden medical error as the third leading cause of death. Researchers believe that the reported number may still be too low and misrepresentative of a much larger statistic. The study shares findings based on medical errors that result in patients’ death and does not even begin to shed a light on the hundreds of thousands of patients that have incurred pain and suffering due to this same cause.

Patients turn to health care professionals and systems when routine and/or emergency medical concerns must be addressed. In this vulnerable state, patients find themselves at the mercy of professionals, systems, and procedures that are often lacking a checks and balances system.  When errors in communication, diagnosis, judgement, and/or skill present themselves during treatment, patients can find themselves paying the ultimate price with their lives. The recent and eye-opening study out of John Hopkins marks the first time since 1999 that this serious issue plaguing the medical community has been researched. The result which cannot be ignored is a frightening and preventable statistic pairing medical error and patient death.

Medical error is not a disease; it’s a problem. If the CDC expanded the coding options on death certificates to include medical error that resulted in preventable death, a much clearer picture of this all too common occurrence would be available. The existence of such a code would show that medical error is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., being surpassed only by heart disease and cancer.  Unlike the other two leading causes, medical error results from human error and/or a breakdown in procedure or system management. As such, an accountable party is determinable.

Preventable corruption of quality care standards carries the ultimate price tag for far too many patients. This new research study makes it abundantly clear that lives are being lost due to erroneous actions within the medical community. The flaws in the reporting system for such cases have allowed these actions and practices to be swept under the rug and recorded as other maladies. Patients and families should be able to trust medical care rather fear medical error.

Disguising the truth can no longer be an option. If you or a loved one has been affected by a medical error resulting in death or preventable injury, contact the Fitch Law Firm today by calling (855) 529-6446.

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