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Does medical error qualify for a leading cause of death?

Various studies by medical researchers have shown a startling conclusion: Medical errors may take third place as a leading cause of death in the U.S.

If this is the case, what are the leading causes of medical errors? What should patients be looking for?

Updating study results

During a 2017 conference for members of the American Academy of PAs, or Physicians’ Assistants, a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine estimated that 98,000 patients were succumbing to medical errors. Newer studies have updated this 20-year-old statistic with estimates that indicate 200,000 to 400,000 people die yearly as the result of medical errors. However, studies undertaken as recently as 2013 show that medical errors adversely affect up to 4 million people annually.

Taking third place

In analyzing the leading causes of death in the United States, many studies over the years have found that heart disease and cancer hold the top two places. Respiratory disease often comes next, but if the statistics about medical errors are anywhere close to accurate, there is sufficient reason for this issue to take over third place.

Major causes

A nonprofit organization that provides accreditation and certification for U.S. health care programs and organizations, the Joint Commission, recognizes three major types of medical errors:

Other medical errors include misdiagnosis, prescription of the wrong medication or dosage plus doctor, nurse or hospital negligence.

Establishing a claim

Someone who is the victim of a serious medical error that could have caused serious injury or death may wish to file a medical malpractice claim. A claim must begin with a thorough investigation to show what happened and that the injury or other condition occurred in the absence of acceptable standards of care. Experts can be called in to help determine whether a case for medical malpractice exists. If so, the work to establish a claim will begin immediately.

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