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Study shows medical errors now 3rd-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Last Updated May 4, 2016 at 1:50 pm EST

File photo of a C-section delivery at Oakville-Trafalgar Memorial Hospital. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Richard Buchan

An alarming new study out of the United States has revealed that medical errors have become the third-leading cause of death in that country.

According to the report, more than 250,000 people are killed each year as a result of medical mistakes, or approximately 9.7 per cent of all deaths in the U.S.

“It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeing care,” lead researcher Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post.

Fatal errors included everything from not properly communicating about drugs or rehabilitation to mistakes during high-risk surgeries.


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The problem, Makary found, is that the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) mortality statistics do not take into account the potential medical failures that caused a death.

That’s the same issue in Canada – statistics for deaths caused medical error are not collected or even accurately recorded by Statistics Canada or Health Canada. If a surgeon makes a mistake during a surgery, the death is often categorized as the reason for the surgery rather than human error. According to the 2004 Canadian Adverse Events Study, 7.5 per cent of all hospitalizations in Canada “had an adverse event that harmed patients.”

Based on the American researchers’ data, 251,454 people in the U.S. died because of a medical error. That ranks just behind heart disease (641,348 people) and cancer (591,699) and ahead of respiratory disease, accidents and strokes.

Makary says the first step in solving the problem is exposing the data and highlighting how important an issue it really is.

“We all know how common it is,” Makary told The Washington Post. “We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed … Measuring the problem is the absolute first step.”