According to a study by doctors at Johns Hopkins, medical errors may be the third leading cause of fatalities in America. That would put it ahead of conditions such as emphysema and bronchitis, and just behind cancer and heart disease. An analysis of several other studies suggests that there areas many as 250,000 deaths resulting from medical mistakes in the United States each year, but that number could be even higher.
This is because deaths that occur when a patient is at home or in a nursing facility are not considered a part of that total. For many years, researchers have tried to figure out exactly how large a problem medical errors are. A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine put the death toll at as many as 98,000 per year. Another study claimed 180,000 patients on Medicare alone died as a result of a medical error in one year.
The reason why the numbers vary so much is because of a lack of patient data. In some cases, errors are not reported or are not reported correctly. The researchers from Johns Hopkins are hoping that their work will lead to a reform in the way health care works for patients. Such reforms would make patient safety a higher priority.
Medical errors can take many forms, and not all of them constitute negligence. It is easy to spot obvious ones, such as a surgeon operating on the wrong body part, but others may be more difficult to investigate. An attorney representing a patient who has been harmed in a hospital will review the patient's hospital records and obtain the opinion of experts in order to determine whether there was a failure to exhibit the requisite standard of care and that it led to the harm.