A recent study from Johns Hopkins University ranks medical error as the third-leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers say that only cancer and heart disease cause more deaths each year.
It is estimated that each year 251,000 deaths in the U.S. are caused by preventable medical mistakes.
In reality, the number of deaths resulting from medical error is likely even higher, according to the report, which was published in the British Medical Journal. Why? Because the study only looked at hospitals, not other health care settings like nursing homes and out-patient surgery facilities.
Why are medical errors so common?
The researchers say that a major problem with health care today is that there isn't a system in place for tallying all of the injuries and deaths due to medical mistakes. Consequently, there is a lack of data on which to base comprehensive strategies for preventing errors.
Additionally, medical professionals have historically been reluctant to admit when they have made a mistake that resulted in injury or death.
What does this information mean for patients?
For one thing, it underscores the risk involved whenever a patient checks into a hospital. In far too many cases, surgical errors, medication errors, preventable bacterial infections, delayed diagnoses and other mistakes either compound an existing medical problem or create an entirely new one, and sadly hundreds of thousands of patients have died or suffered permanent injury as a result.
If you believe that you or a loved one has been harmed because of medical error - or if you are having difficulty getting clear answers about these matters from your doctor - speak with a medical malpractice attorney about your legal options.