Medical errors are No. 3 cause of death in the U.S., after heart disease and cancer
Heart disease, cancer … and medical errors?
A new tally of mistakes made in American hospitals suggests that medical errors are the No. 3 cause of death in the U.S. At least 250,000 deaths each year can be attributed to medical care that has gone awry, according to a report published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal.
That means deadly mistakes are responsible for more fatalities than chronic respiratory disease, which currently ranks third on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of leading causes of death.
In 2014, 147,101 deaths in the U.S. were caused by chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to the CDC. Heart disease was the top killer that year with 614,348 deaths, and cancer ranked second with 591,699 deaths.
Fatal medical errors include cases in which patients received medications they were allergic to and instances in which patients died of preventable infections, among many other possibilities. Doctors and nurses are not necessarily involved, experts said — sometimes a faulty computer program may be to blame.
“Medical care has become really complex,” said Dr. David Classen, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Utah who was not involved in the study. “It’s no longer one single physician taking care of a single person at a hospital. It’s these huge groups of people now, and mistakes get made.”
The authors, from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that while human error is inevitable, medical errors don’t have to be.