Why Are Medical Errors Still a Leading Cause of Death?

PSQH: Patient Safety & Quality Healthcare, May 24, 2017

A more pressing question: ‘Why aren’t we doing more research into strategies that can reduce medical errors?’

Surgeon

This article first appeared April 5, 2017 on PSHQ

By Megan Headley

The conversation around tracking medical errors highlights a lack of safety cultures.

Why are medical errors the third leading cause of death?

It was a question asked frequently by the consumer press back in May 2016, in response to an article in BMJ (Makary & Daniel, 2016) that analyzed medical literature on such errors to better understand their contribution to deaths.

However, there’s a more pressing question that the article by John Hopkins researchers Martin Makary, professor, and Michael Daniel, research fellow, sought to address: Why aren’t we doing more research into strategies that can reduce medical errors?

Getting data on the problem

The goal of the BMJ analysis was to encourage strong research into and better reporting on preventing medical errors. Makary’s chief concern is that medical errors are not cited as a cause of death, which limits research into effective solutions.

As the John Hopkins researchers point out, causes of death are reported using codes from the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). Those causes not associated with an ICD code—namely, medical errors—are not captured. One result of this is that medical errors will never be listed on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual list of the most common causes of death in the United States, which guides national research priorities for the year.

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