Monday, August 6, 2018

More proof medical error is not the third leading cause of death

Over the last 20 years, estimates of the number of deaths caused by medical error have risen from 44,000-98,000 in 1999 [1] all the way up to 440,000 [2] and 251,000 [3]. Despite my efforts [4, 5] and those of others [6, 7] to debunk these guesses, they continue to permeate the lay press. If you Google “third leading cause of death,” you will find countless headlines naming medical error.

The papers claiming medical errors cause so many deaths assume that all complications result from errors and all complications are preventable. They extrapolate their final numbers from small studies not designed to or capable of estimating deaths due to medical error nationwide.

The most recent figures available from the National Hospital Discharge Survey [8] state that the number of hospital deaths dropped from 776,000 in the year 2000 to 715,000 in 2010. It is simply not plausible that 251,000 (35%) or 440,000 (61%) inpatient deaths are due to medical error.

A recent study [9] from Norway found that of 1000 consecutive in-hospital deaths reviewed, only 42 (4.2%) were judged to be probably (greater than a 50% chance) to definitely avoidable.