A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine says medical errors should rank as the third-leading cause of death in the United States—and highlights how shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye.
The authors, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Marty Makary, call for changes in death certificates to better tabulate fatal lapses in care. In an open letter, they urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death.
Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC’s official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and in front of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths.
Medical mistakes that can lead to death range from surgical complications that go unrecognized to mix-ups with the doses or types of medications patients receive.