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The NSPA Blog

Medical Errors

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Posted on October 3rd, 2016 by Teri Dreher, under Medical Error

Patients and their families or guardians need to be aware of this new study from John Hopkins, which suggests that medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States. Patient safety experts at John Hopkins analyzed the medical death rate over an eight-year period. They calculated that more than 250,000 deaths per year were due to medical errors in the United States.

Their figures surpass the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which notes that respiratory disease kills close to 150,000 people per year and is the third leading cause of death. The John Hopkins team says the CDC’s way of collecting national health statistics fails to classify medical errors separately on death certificates. Therefore, these researchers are advocating for updated criteria for classifying deaths on death certificates.

Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H. professor of surgery at the John Hopkins School of Medicine and an authority on health reform said: “ Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standard method for collecting national statistics. The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing to physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used.”

According to Dr. Makary, in 1949, the United States adopted an international form that used International Classification of Diseases billing codes to tally causes of death. At that time the medical profession never recognized that under-recognized diagnostic errors-medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets- could result in someone’s death. Because of this policy, medical errors were unintentionally excluded from national health statistics.
In their study, the researchers examined four separate studies that analyzed medical death rates from 2000 to 2008, including one from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Then using hospital admission rates from 2013, they extrapolated that based on a total of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths stemmed from medical error, which translates to 9.5 percent of deaths each year in the United States.

The researchers want to caution people that most of the medical errors are not due to inherently bad doctors. There should not be punishment or legal action. Most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence of underused safety nets and other protocols and variations in physician practice patterns that lack accountably.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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