Study: Medical errors are third leading cause of death in U.S.


Read Painter Law Firm's tips on how to minimize your risk of being harmed by medical errors

September 15, 2017

A study published by researchers at the elite Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland concluded that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Pause for a moment and think about that sentence.

Think about all of the attention garnered by the leading causes of death, unrelated to medical errors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent statistics, from 2016, these are the number of deaths attributed to the “Top 10” category:

• Heart disease: 633,842
• Cancer: 595,930
• Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 155,041
• Accidents (unintentional injuries): 146,571
• Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 140,323
• Alzheimer’s disease: 110,561
• Diabetes: 79,535
• Influenza and pneumonia: 57,062
• Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 49,959
• Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,193

The Johns Hopkins research estimates that medical errors cause 251,000 deaths each year. This places it in between cancer and chronic lower respiratory diseases, in terms of the number of deaths caused.

To put it another way, medical errors cause 9.5 percent of all deaths in America each year.

About medical errors

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer medical errors come in all shapes and sizes.

For doctors, common medical errors that I have seen include misdiagnosis, failure to implement a proper treatment plan, refusing to come to a hospital in a timely fashion to assess a patient, and medication errors.

For hospitals, I have filed lawsuits where there were errors in the pharmacy, laboratory, and radiology department, and by nursing staff.

We have sued hospitals and pharmacies concerning medication errors, or filling prescriptions for medications that should not be dispensed because of manufacturer contraindications or warnings.

Laboratories process blood work and other diagnostic testing, but sometimes do not timely notify doctrine nurses about critical results that need immediate treatment. The same is true for radiology departments, with abnormal or critical results.

When it comes to nurses, I have handled many cases where they are aware of serious problems with patients, but do not step up and do their part to get doctors into the hospital to take care of their patients.

What you can do

No one is immune from making mistakes, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers.

When we sue hospitals and other providers for medical malpractice, we look at whether there were systems in place to help prevent medical errors. We look at whether their electronic medical record systems help or hinder the provision of quality patient care. As a former hospital administrator, I know where to look when overseeing these investigations.

As a patient or family member, you can have a role in minimizing medical errors, as well.

In my experience, I have found that many people are a bit hesitant or frightened to ask too many questions to their doctors and nurses. I think that this is a mistake. Healthcare providers are busy people and it is easy for things to fall through the cracks.

I recommend that you keep a journal listing your healthcare symptoms, what your providers tell you, and any diagnostic lab or radiology tests that are ordered. Speaking of orders, at the time that they are brought up, curiously ask what the results will show. Make sure to follow up and learn the results yourself.

In medical negligence lawsuits that I have handled, there have been occasions when doctors ordered lab work, but gave no explanation of what the testing purpose was. In one case, we found that a doctor ordered bloodwork for a number of tests, but the lab did not receive the order electronically for one test. The patient did not know what tests were to be performed because the doctor had not told her. The doctor never followed up on the missing lab work, and it caused a terrible injury.

In other cases, nurses or doctors have provided casual comments that lab work, or a radiology exam, like a CT or MRI, turned out fine. Later, patients found out that there were abnormalities or borderline findings that should have been investigated and dealt with.

You can avoid these types of errors by keeping yourself informed, and asking for emailed or printed copies of lab work results and radiology reports. Once you have them, you will be armed with the information that you need to ask intelligent questions.

We are here to help

Research shows that medical errors are more common than most people realized. That means that we need to protect against them, just like we do for other causes of death. If you or someone you care for has been seriously injured as a result of a medical error or malpractice, call Painter Law Firm, at 281-580-8800, for free consultation about your potential case.


Robert Painter is an experienced medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He sues hospitals, doctors, pharmacies, and laboratories in medical mistake and wrongful death cases.

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is a medical malpractice lawyer at Painter Law Firm PLLC.


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