Medical Mistakes: The Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

surgeonsIn May of 2015, Deborah Craven underwent surgery to have a mass removed from her eighth rib. According to a statement filed by Yale-New Haven hospital with the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the incorrect rib, however, was removed.

In a different news story published in February 2016, a 46-year old female doctor in Southern California was said to have been convicted of second-degree murder for the deaths of three of her patients for recklessly prescribing opiate-based painkillers. According to John Niedermann, a Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, the deaths of the three patients, who were all in their 20s, were not the only patient deaths blamed on the 46-year old female doctor; in 2007 and 2008, three other patients of hers also died due to an overdose of the drugs that she prescribed.

In the U.S., like in any part of the globe, medical malpractice due to mistakes committed by health professionals and providers is nothing new, thus the thousands of lawsuits (filed by patients or their families) every year. Based on their review of four different studies, all on death rates in the U.S., doctors at Johns Hopkins say that at least 251,454 deaths are caused by medical errors in the U.S. annually. The doctors, however, believe that the number is much higher as many medical errors are never officially reported, and deaths occurring in nursing homes are not included in the count.

Doctors Martin Makary and Michael Daniel, who made the review, state that medical errors seem to kill more people than lower respiratory diseases. This would put medical mistakes in the third spot on the list of the leading causes of death in the U.S., placing it right after heart disease and cancer.

Though the doctors are hopeful that their study will result to improvement in a health care system which, they say, is letting patients down, Dr. Makary, in particular, believes that many hospitals never invest in technology that could help prevent and lessen errors because these hospitals do not realize just how big the problem is: neither do these hospitals make it a priority to understand the cause of the problem.

Removing the wrong body part is not the only basis of lawsuits filed against medical professionals, by the way. There are also lawsuits against surgeons who operate on the wrong patient, a surgeon who accidentally leaves a piece of medical equipment in a patient’s body, a doctor who prescribes the wrong medicine or an opiate-based painkiller, or a doctor who fails to correctly diagnose a serious illness.

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