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Medical Errors, the Third-Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Steven E. North, Esq.


According to the British Medical Journal, medical error is the cause of more than a quarter of a million deaths in the U.S. each year, but it likely that the number is higher. It A New York Times article about the subject noted that medical error is not reported as a cause of death on death certificates, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does list medical error as a category in its annual reports on death.

Therefore, to evaluate whether a family member or loved one died as a result of medical error, one must rely on the integrity of the treating personnel to admit the circumstances or dig deep into the medical records with assistance of an attorney.

Even when autopsies are performed and clear medical errors surface, there is not a requirement that the family be notified that the death was related to improper medical care and treatment.

These circumstances call for a reevaluation of our system of medical reporting. Isn’t the family of a person who died from medical error entitled to be informed of that cause rather than undertake their own investigation because of some suspicions? What if there are no suspicions? The event just gets swept under the proverbial rug, and the medical staff is absolved of any responsibility.

The classic and well-respected 1979 Harvard Medical Malpractice Study, still referenced in papers published in The New England Journal of Medicine, revealed that a large proportion of medical malpractice cases were never known by the injured or family and consequently never resulted in litigation.