By Ben Whitley
On May 3, 2016, the British Medical Journal (BMJ), published an article citing medical errors as one of the leading causes of death in the United States. John Hopkins professor Martin Makary, MD, MPH, and research fellow Michael Daniels contend that medical errors account for more than 250,000 deaths in the United States annually.
To make that determination, the authors reviewed four earlier studies to average the number of patient deaths that were caused by medical errors. Using that average, they estimated annual death rates caused by medical errors by applying that percentage to the number of hospitalized patients at the time of the study. Based on their findings, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
One of the biggest hurdles in determining the accuracy of the number of deaths caused by medical errors is the same hurdle that victims of medical errors face thereafter–there is no uniform definition for medical errors.
Additionally, while there is an acceptable standard of care, there is no a uniform standard of care in the medical profession, as is common in other industries. The accepted standard of care considers how another medical professional would handle a similar situation under similar circumstances.
Without a uniform standard, what constitutes a medical error is determined on a case-by-case basis. The general element for defining medical errors within the medical community requires that a planned activity, such as a surgery, be derailed because the planned action was not completed or was completed using the wrong plan.
A victim of a medical error has legal recourse if it can be established that the error rose to malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional, which includes nurses, physicians, intake specialists, laboratory technicians, and others, fails to follow the accepted standards of the medical community and the patient is harmed as a result.
While it is unknown how precisely or exactly accurate Makary and Daniels’ assertions are, the number of medical errors that result in serious injury or death remain a concern that has not been fully addressed by the medical community or the government.
Hopefully, renewed public interest about the number of medical errors that result in death will result in positive changes within the medical field.
Ben Whitley is a personal injury attorney with Whitley Law Firm, a plaintiffs’ side firm in North Carolina with offices in Raliegh, Winston-Salem, and Kinston. Whitley Law Firm represents individuals who have been injured by car accidents, medical malpractice, and dangerous products. They also handle eminent domain and land condemnation claims.