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Third leading cause of death determined to be medical errors

Death, due to medical error, has become a serious epidemic in the United States in recent years. In fact, today, more than 10 percent of all U.S. deaths are thought to have resulted from medical error.

Among the different causes of death, the national death registry data shows heart disease as being responsible for claiming the lives of more than 611,000 individuals annually in this country, with cancer ultimately taking 585,000. However, when it comes the third leading cause of death in the country, that number is subject to much debate.

According to an 8-year study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, more than 250,000 patients who die annually do so as the result of medical error. Prior to their discovery, the third leading cause of death in the U.S. was listed as respiratory disease at nearly 150,000 deaths per year.

Although, at this rate, this statistic would largely place medical errors third among the leading causes of death in the U.S., it isn't listed as such. This is largely the case because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have a separate classification for medical error on death certificates, something that ultimately leads to cases of the sort being largely unaccounted for.

Additionally, International Classification of Diseases (ICD) billing codes, created to track causes of death, provide little help in tracking deaths resulting from medical error either. This is because, in 1949, when ICD codes were implemented, medical error was not seen as a potentially life-threatening phenomenon. With no modifications to this coding system over the years, medical error deaths have largely gone without tracking.

As for why medical error appears to claim so many American's lives each year, the Johns Hopkins' study referenced above encountered many contributing factors. Researchers determined the deaths resulted from a variance in physician practice patterns, a lack of safety measures being taken, disconnected insurance networks, and health care that is not properly coordinated. It is, thus, a systemic problem.

If you or someone you know has fallen victim to a suspected incidence of medical error, a Chicago medical malpractice attorney may prove invaluable for guidance.

Source: HopkinsMedicine.org, "Study suggests medical errors now third leading cause of death in the U.S.," accessed March 10, 2017

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