When Healthcare Kills

Although not an especially cheery thought, the truth is our lives are bookended by official pieces of paper, “vital records” that give and take a number of legal rights. As far as the U.S. government is concerned, you don’t really exist until you have a birth certificate and you don’t expire until you have a death certificate. Generally, deaths have to be recorded with local health departments within 72 hours and to the state within five to seven days.

Top Ten Leading Causes of Death

  1. Heart disease
  2. Cancer (malignant neoplasms)
  3. Chronic lower respiratory disease
  4. Accidents (unintentional injuries)
  5. Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases)
  6. Alzheimer's disease
  7. Diabetes (diabetes mellitus)
  8. Influenza and pneumonia
  9. Kidney disease (nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis)
  10. Suicide (intentional self-harm)

Beyond the standard details like name and gender, death certificates must also list the immediate cause of death (the conditions and sequence of events that led up to it) as well as the underlying causes of death over time (something that happened in the previous hours or medical condition over the years). Each cause is assigned an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code, except for those that can be classified as human error. That means a fatality due to a medical professional’s mistake remains unclassified, yet medical error has recently been named as the reason for over 250,000 deaths annually.

This astoundingly large number was calculated by patient safety experts at Johns Hopkins who evaluated data over an eight-year period and released their findings in May. If medical error was coded and treated as a cause of death, it would surpass respiratory disease to become the third highest cause of death after heart disease (611,105 people) and cancer (584,881 people). One of the reasons for collecting information on cause of death is that it directly determines research dollars and public health priorities. As pointed out by one of the study’s authors, Dr. Martin Makary, surgical director of the Johns Hopkins Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic and a professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine, “since medical errors don't appear on the list, the problem doesn't get the funding and attention it deserves."

Described by some as a healthcare crisis, medical mistakes are largely avoidable. They come in many forms, at the individual or the system level, anywhere along a patient’s healthcare journey, and anywhere patients seek medical help.Common errors include:

  • Incorrect diagnosis
  • Missed diagnosis
  • Administering the wrong drug
  • Administering drugs that harmfully interact with each other
  • Surgery on the wrong body part
  • Unnecessary surgery
  • Leaving instruments in the patient’s body after surgery
  • Recordkeeping mistakes
  • Failure to fully evaluate the patient
  • Failure to properly monitor the patient
  • Misinterpreted test results
  • Incorrectly taken test samples.

The absence or underutilization of safety protocols, medical staff that exercise poor judgment, the fragmentation of insurance networks, unwarranted variation in the practice of medicine, poor communication among medical professionals, and poor doctor/patient communication also contribute to the problem.

Errors in medicine are a serious health issue that can have fatal consequences. If you have any questions about this topic, or if you believe that a medical error may be responsible for your injury or for the wrongful death of loved one, talk to the medical mistake attorneys at Stabinski LawAs one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, we have helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies for over 45 years. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us today by calling 305-643-3100 or filling out a free case evaluation form.

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