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Surprise: medical error is third most common cause of death in U.S.

Most of us are aware that we face some risk of error and harm when we receive medical care, and we willingly take that risk. Most people are probably not aware, though, that medical errors are among the leading causes of death in the United States.

According to a recent analysis of data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, medical error is the third leading cause of death among Americans, with only cancer and heart disease  The CDC came to that conclusion after analyzing cause-of-death data over eight years. What they found was that over 250,000 individuals were reported to have died each year in the United States due to medical errors. This amounts to 9.7 percent of the nation’s deaths. 

One interesting aspect of the analysis is that the way the CDC collects cause-of-death data doesn’t clearly identify when medical error is the cause of the accident, since cause-of-death is ordinarily attributed to the underlying condition rather than any medical errors that may have precipitated the death. Additionally, the CDC doesn’t list medical error as among the most common causes of death in the United States, despite the clear role medical error plays in patient mortality in this country.

One wonders how accurate the CDC data is anyway, given that physicians and hospitals very often aren’t open about provider’s contributions to the worsening of a patient’s condition or patient mortality. The fact that medical error plays such a frequent role in patient deaths, though, is enough to cause everybody pause. Those who have been harmed by medical error should always work with experienced legal counsel to ensure they have the best possible opportunity to hold the negligent provider or providers accountable.