Study: Medical mistakes rate among nation’s leading causes of death

Although often viewed as a rare occurrence, a recent study found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death for people in the U.S.

When people in Florida seek medical treatment, they generally expect the medical professionals who are providing their care to act ethically, professionally and with their best interests in mind. Sometimes, however, health care providers make mistakes. Many think doctor errors are a rarity, but such medical negligence occurs all too often, frequently leading to serious injury, worsened conditions or death for patients. In fact, a study recently published in the BMJ journal suggests medical errors are the third leading cause of mortality in the U.S.

Analyzing deaths due to medical error

Patient safety experts with Johns Hopkins Medicine conducted a study to better understand the prevalence of fatal medical mistakes. To this end, they performed a comprehensive analysis of four previous studies, which examined the medical death rate from 2000 to 2008. The researchers extrapolated on the studies' data using the hospital admission rates for 2013 to estimate the number of health care-related deaths that occur each year.

Common medical mistakes

There are numerous medical errors that occur in doctors' offices, hospitals and other health care facilities. Some of the most common of these may include the following:

  • Providing unnecessary or inappropriate treatment
  • Misdiagnosing a patient's condition
  • Administering the wrong medication or dosage
  • Allowing the contraction of a hospital-acquired infection

These and other types of medical errors may result in serious injuries, severe infections or death for patients. Such mistakes may be due to negligence, fatigue, distraction or human error, among other causes.

Medical errors are a common danger

Based on their calculations, the researchers estimated that 251,454 people died in 2013 as a result of lapses in their medical care. This would place medical errors third on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's leading causes of death list, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Currently, however, medical mistakes are not listed as a top mortality cause on the CDC's list. This is because the CDC collects fatality data through billing codes, which do not account for or require the reporting of medical errors. The researchers suggest their findings accentuate some shortcomings in the current method of death data tracking, and have called for the CDC to update its reporting requirements.

Florida's medical malpractice insurance loophole

If they meet certain conditions, Florida doctors under state law are able to practice medicine without medical malpractice insurance, which can leave a patient injured by an uninsured physician's act of medical negligence in danger of being left high and dry financially even if the patient is awarded money damages in a malpractice lawsuit. This is especially problematic if the doctor declares bankruptcy while holding significant wealth in the form of assets that may be exempt from liquidation in the bankruptcy proceeding.

The state statute that governs liability insurance exemptions and requirements is very complicated. A knowledgeable Florida malpractice lawyer should be consulted with related questions.

Taking legal action

Although they are generally unintentional, medical mistakes may have devastating consequences for people and families in Florida. In certain circumstances, those who have suffered harm due to medical error may seek economic or non-economic damages from the responsible health care provider or facility. Thus, those who have experienced such situations may benefit from consulting with a legal representative. An attorney may explain their rights and options, and help ensure they act within the allotted time frame.