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Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

A recent study published in the BMJ indicates that medical errors in hospitals and from other health care facilities are very common and may be the third leading cause of death in the United States. According to the study, 251,000, lives every year are cut short due to medical errors. This is higher than respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer's and accidents.

Martin Makary, a lead researcher on the project as well as a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, stated in an interview that medical errors include everything from communication breakdowns, bad doctors, poor discharge instructions, mistakes in diagnosis, and preventable complications like infections acquired in the hospital. Makary was quoted in a recent interview saying "It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care."

A 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine shed light on patient safety and medical issues. That report indicated that deaths because of medical errors were as high as 98,000 per year, which led to significant debate within the medical established about what could be done. The most recent study by Makary suggests that nearly 700 deaths a day and about 9.5 percent of all deaths annually in the United States occur because of medical errors. With these new statistics, only heart disease and cancer outnumber causes of death per year.

Understanding the problem through metrics is a first step to acknowledging and hopefully fixing the high rate of deaths caused by medical errors. However, it is up to hospitals and medical centers to improve the quality of patient care in an effort to lower these types of preventable deaths.

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