If you had to quickly name the leading causes of death in the United States, you’d probably start with cancer. It gets a lot of press. It can be treated but not always cured. We know it’s deadly.
Next, maybe you’d settle on heart attacks or simply heart issues in general. You know that America has an obesity epidemic. It stands to reason that heart disease has to be pretty high up on the list.
Then where would you go? Car accidents? Violent crime? Natural disasters?
These all play a role every year, but the reality is something many people overlook. While heart diseases and cancer are the top two causes of death for Americans, the No. 3 cause of death is medical mistakes. These errors, made by the very same people that we entrust with our health, take over 250,000 lives every year.
Types of mistakes
You see a statistic like that and you instantly wonder what could go wrong. What types of issues take so many lives annually?
The range is huge. In some cases, doctors simply mix up paperwork. One patient does not get the right medication or gets medicine intended for someone else or gets a dose that is far too high or too low. In a stressful, high-speed work environment, these little slip-ups are easy, but they can take lives.
In other cases, doctors make direct mistakes. A surgeon forgets an implement in a patient after surgery or makes an error during the surgery itself that has dire consequences. The surgical team gives the patient too much medication or accidentally gives them something they’re allergic to. Things are very fragile, and a tiny error is all it takes.
Fixing the problem
So, how can we fix this? How can we get the numbers down and save lives?
Researchers believe that it starts with just that: research. We need to document these cases and collect data. This can help to expose trends and show why mistakes happen and why they happen so often. Armed with that information, professionals can seek ways to lower the error rates.
“While no method of investigating and documenting preventable harm is perfect,” one report noted, “some form of data collection of death due to medical error is needed to address the problem.”
If you didn’t guess that medical mistakes were the No. 3 leading cause of death at the beginning, that shows part of the reason this problem exists. People just don’t know how big of a problem it is. Exposing it and gathering data helps work toward that goal.
For now, though, you need to know your rights if you have suffered a serious injury or lost a loved one due to a medical error.