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Medical Error Estimate Raised Again

Philosophers and others have long pondered the question about a tree falling in the forest when no one is around. Does it make a sound, they wonder.

Doctors and hospitals apparently have a similar thought experiment. If a medical error goes unreported, is it still a mistake?

According to recent research in the BMJ, most medical mistakes go unreported. Worse, the study by Johns Hopkins doctors says that medical errors might well be the third leading cause of death in the U.S., trailing only heart disease and cancer.

The study estimates that just over 250,000 people die every year due to medical errors in the U.S. And even that astronomical figure might be too low, the study's authors concede, because deaths in nursing homes are not figured into the total.

It seems that the more medical errors are studied and analyzed, the more we realize that the problem is bigger than anyone thought. Back in 1999, a study by the Institute of Medicine shocked the world when it estimated that as many as 98,000 died annually from medical mistakes. Six years ago, the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that as many as 180,000 people died each year in the U.S. due to medical errors.

Now the figure has been raised again. "We have to make an improvement in patient safety a real priority," one of the authors of the new study says.

There is little doubt that he is correct. One of the ways we can improve patient safety is by holding doctors and hospitals accountable when negligence results in patient injuries or fatalities. You can speak with an attorney experienced in medical malpractice litigation about the circumstances of your case.

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