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Medical Errors Could Be #3 Cause of Death in US

Tony Tramontana

According to a recent analysis conducted by two experts from John Hopkins University, medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States, exceeded only by heart disease and cancer. This statistic comes as a shock to many, leading medical professionals to search for new ways to prevent these errors from occurring.

About the Analysis

Johns Hopkins University's Michael Daniel and Dr. Martin Makary were responsible for the analysis in question, which was published in the British Medical Journal. The two experts calculated the total number of deaths that occurred because of medical errors in recent years and determined that the approximate yearly death toll was between 200,000 and 400,000. If these numbers are correct and medical error was considered a disease, it would be the third deadliest disease in this country, falling under cancer and heart disease but above chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Understanding Medical Error

The term "medical error" takes in a number of different mistakes made by medical professionals, ranging from inaccurate diagnoses to surgical mistakes. Some of the most common medical errors that may lead to complications or death include:

  • Hospital-acquired infections.
  • Errors made in surgery.
  • Inaccurate diagnoses.
  • Late diagnoses.
  • Lack of follow-up.
  • Inaccurate prescriptions.
  • Mistakes made when administering medication.

Unfortunately, many of these errors don't make it onto the death certificate, which has made the total more difficult to estimate. Nonetheless, health policy experts have been trying to draw attention to this problem for at least a decade. The goal of this movement is not to blame the medical professionals, but to help them understand the problem and exercise more caution in the future.

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

As a patient, you trust your doctors and nurses to have the answers you need. However, because these professionals are human, mistakes will always be a part of medical care. To protect yourself and reduce the chances of becoming a victim of medical error:

  • Choose your doctors and facilities carefully- Before you seek treatment from a given medical professional or at a specific facility, do your homework. Avoid facilities and doctors with bad reputations or a history of problems.
  • Be open and honest with caregivers- Doctors and nurses are busy. On particularly difficult days, they may not notice important symptoms or other facts that impact your treatment. If you are experiencing new symptoms, bring them to the attention of your caregivers. Likewise, make sure that anyone prescribing any type of treatment knows your medical history and any medications you are currently taking.
  • Ask questions- If you have questions about the doctor's decision, your medication or any other issue related to your care, don't hesitate to ask the professionals who are caring for you.
  • Be proactive- In many cases, patients experience complications related to medical error because the doctor didn't follow up with the patient appropriately. Be proactive about making follow-up appointments and getting the care you need.
  • Have someone with you- If possible, ask a family member or a friend to accompany you to a procedure, or to stay with you in the hospital. Most errors that occur can be caught before they cause damage. You may not be in condition to catch an error or ask questions, but a family member or friend will be.

Can You Sue a Doctor for Malpractice? Seek Legal Counsel

Even when you make all the right choices, you or a loved one may still become a victim of medical error. If you believe that you or someone you know has experienced medical complications as a result of an error made by a doctor, nurse or other professional, seeking legal counsel is highly recommended. To learn more about your options or to find out whether you have a case, please call J. Antonio Tramontana today.

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