This Is The Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.
A Leading Cause of Morbidity And Mortality
For several years, a controversial debate has divided members of the medical profession. Some patient care advocates suggest that medical errors account for a far higher number of serious patient health problems and fatalities than health care professionals like to admit. The issue gained widespread media attention recently, when testimony before a Senate subcommittee suggested that preventable medical errors may account for as many as 1,000 deaths daily in the United States and cost the medical system up to $1 trillion annually. The journal Health Affairs published a report in 2011 suggesting that, if medical mistakes explained 1% of patient deaths in hospitals every year, these incidents would pose the third leading cause of death in the United States, outnumbered only by deaths due to heart disease and cancer.
A Troublesome Statistic
Of course, determining the precise number of cases of morbidity and mortality caused by avoidable medical mistakes remains exceedingly difficult. Several factors contribute to this problem:
- Medical institutions often won’t divulge statistics about physician errors, due to liability concerns;
- Sometimes, mistakes become clearcut only in hindsight;
- Establishing whether a particular patient suffered adverse consequences from a physician’s avoidable mistake or as a result of disease complications often proves exceedingly time consuming and difficult;
- In some cases, causes of mortality only become clear after an autopsy.
- The precipitating cause of some diseases and deaths remains unknown, or idiopathic, even following an autopsy.
Determining when a physician makes a gross and avoidable treatment error often proves difficult also because medical professionals do not always agree about the best way to treat certain disease conditions. Since practitioners use their best judgment in caring for patients, this issue incites strong emotions on both sides of the public debate.
The Movement to Identify Medical Errors