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Study: Medical mistakes are 3rd biggest killers in U.S.

A group of researchers at Johns Hopkins say medical errors are a big-time killer in this country, and not enough is being done to stop it. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — It’s a big-time killer in this country, and not enough is being done to stop it. That is the finding of a group of researchers at Johns Hopkins who investigated the rate of medical mistakes in the United States.

“It turns out if you look collectively at the program of fragmented care, patients falling through the cracks, medical mistakes, diagnostic errors and preventable complications … in total they represent the number three cause of death in the United States,” said study author Dr. Martin Makary, an oncology surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and Sibley Hospital in D.C.

Makary, who is also a professor of health policy at Johns Hopkins and a longtime advocate for patient safety, is urging the government, health industry and patients to pay more attention to a problem that he says is claiming roughly 250,000 lives every year.

That puts it in third place on the list of the biggest killers in the United States — right behind heart disease and cancer.

His team reached that number by analyzing a mound of data from various studies conducted in recent years based on hospital records and the like. There are no official government tallies on deaths from medical mistakes because of old rules governing what can and cannot be written on a death certificate.

Makary said the policy role is to provide more funding for research on improving patient safety — money that he insists is woefully lacking.

“Right now, we have four to five times more people dying of medical error than breast cancer, but it gets a fraction of the funding because we don’t have the awareness and the measurement system,” Makary said.

He says health care providers need to step up their game, and patients — the consumers of health care — need to ask more questions.

The best patients, according to Makary, are highly informed, well aware of their treatment options and open to getting a second opinion.

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