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Death by Medical Error

Steven E. North, Esq.

In a recent New York Times article (August 16, 2016) the author, Dr. Aaron Carroll, cautions that the number of hospitalized patients who die as result of a medical malpractice event may not be as high as studies indicate because of mitigating factors.

He seems, somehow, to qualify the statistics as they relate to older, very sick people. He asks, When an 86-year-old withdementia andcancerdies and also had been given a drug in a slightly-too-high dose a few weeks earlier, is it the error that killed her or the underlying disease and age?

Citing an article from The Journal of the American Medical Association, Carroll says the authors say that some percentage of this compromised patient base would within a very short time period, anyway.
Such an attitude does not relieve a grieving family of a painful and precipitous loss, even if the stolen life would not have had much more to go.

Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 250,000 lives a year, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. And given that The Centers for Disease Control requires physicians to report all errors that lead to preventable deaths, the minimal figures noted for such occurrences must be valid.

Other studies, particularly The Harvard Medical Practice Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that there have been more medical malpractice and related deaths than there are lawsuits. A 1990 study, thought to be the most comprehensive ever conducted in the United States, concluded that thousands of hospital deaths and tens of thousands injuries are tied to negligence each year, but that relatively few victims seek recovery in the courts.

The author notes that it is debatable whether medical errors kill more people than guns or cars, but this is not a contest. Nor is there any relevance to the hierarchy of which kind of tragedy claims more lives. The all cause untimely deaths, and something must and should always be done to protect the public and bring to justice those responsible for egregious and unnecessary harm.