Medical Error Shown To Be Vastly Underreported In Terrifying New Study–And The CDC Doesn’t Even Track It
It’s such a cold term, such a clinical term. It hardly conveys the pain, suffering, sense of betrayal and even loss of life that can result. From botched surgeries, to misprescribed medications, to amputations of the wrong limb–there was a story in the news recently of a hospital where neurosurgeons operated on the wrong hemisphere of the brain not once, not twice, but three separate times within a one-year span–the list of horrors goes on.
But an alarming new study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine shows that medical errors are vastly underreported, for one thing, and that they are a widely under-identified cause of patients’ deaths in the U.S.
The alarming fact is that medical error ranks third in causing patient deaths, right behind heart disease and cancer.
Yet, and here’s perhaps the most disturbing fact, the Centers for Disease Control don’t even record medical errors in its annual mortality report. It isn’t a category that is recorded on death certificates–God forbid a doctor suffer embarrassment, or, a more likely cause for this omission, pressure from insurance companies to deny, deny, deny when it comes to making potential payouts.
But the meta-study from Johns Hopkins analyzed medical death rate data from the years 2000 to 2008, examining information culled from four studies, including those by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Then, using this data, they calculated a mean rate of death from medical error, which was then applied to annual hospital admissions.
The conclusions the researchers drew were that an average of 251,454 deaths–or 9.5 percent of all U.S. deaths per year during that period–were due to medical error.
A quarter million people a year.
Imagine if a quarter million people were dying each year from any other cause: motorcycles, Zika virus, cheerleading, Butterfinger bars–anything at all, you name it–the medical community, government, and the people would be up in arms to combat it. There would be a special colored ribbon dedicated to fighting this scourge and non-profits would spring up overnight.
But no, not only does the CDC not track death by medical error in its annual statistics, medical examiners can’t even list it as a cause of death. That’s because its considered a taboo subject among doctors.
“We all know how common [medical error] is. We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed,” said study lead researcher Dr. Martin Makary. “Instead of simply recording cause of death [with a code], death certificates should contain an extra field asking whether a preventable complication stemming from the patient’s medical care contributed to the death.”
Yes, that would be a start. Another step would be for the CDC to grow a pair and call out this deadly plague for what it is: a preventable, ongoing tragedy that steamrolls the friends and families of a quarter million Americans every year.