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Study Finds Over 200,000 Patients Die Each Year From Avoidable Medical Errors

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“To Err is Human” Report  Statistics Widely Accepted and Cited

In 1999 when the Institute of Medicine published the “To Err is Human” Report (pdf) citing that 98,000 Americans die each year from medical mistakes, the medical community disparaged the report.  However, the  number is widely accepted by doctors and has been cited repeatedly in the media.  But what if the number is even higher than the report suggested?  Well, it looks like that could be the case, according to a new study published in the Journal of Patient Safety.

Medical Errors Third-Leading Cause of Death?

According to the recent study, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients each year who go to the hospital for care suffer from a preventable harm that contributes to their death.  If those numbers are true, that would make hospital mistakes the third-leading cause of death, right behind cancer.  The numbers come from NASA’s toxicologist at the space center in Houston who also runs an advocacy group called Patient Safety America.  While the American Hospital Association says it stands behind the 98,000 figure, three prominent patient safety researchers were asked to review the toxicologist’s study, and all three found his methods and results credible.

What’s the Right Number?  

No one knows for sure the magnitude of preventable medical errors that contribute to patient deaths.  Patient safety experts say the problem is hard to measure because of inaccuracies in medical reports and doctors’ reluctance to report medical errors.  However, they also say that it is important to measure the problem because it bring awareness and public health dollars to a serious issue that contributes to patient deaths.