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Medical error third major cause of death after heart disease and cancer

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The true extent of medicine’s deadliness is much worse, as the figures do not include adverse reactions to prescription drugs that resulted in death.

But even without the drug-related drugs, medical error would be the third major cause of death after heart disease and cancer if it was viewed as a disease, say researchers from John Hopkins University school of medicine. Although the figures relate to US hospitals, the problem could be every bit as bad in countries such as the UK and Canada, where medical error is also not being recorded.

No major country – including the US and the UK – classifies medical error as a cause of death. In order to discover the extent of the problem, the researchers looked at previously-published research on deaths in US hospitals, and extrapolated the figures nationwide. The estimate of the 400,000 annual deaths is the worst case, and is based on a 2004 review of three hospitals where nine patients out of 795 died as direct result of a medical error. Extrapolated across all hospital admissions in the US, this error rate would result in 400,201 deaths a year.

(Source: BMJ, 2016; 353: i2139)

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