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How common are medical errors?

When you receive medical treatment from a doctor in Illinois, you put trust in his or her ability to treat your condition successfully. At the very least, you trust that you will not leave the doctor’s care any worse than you went in. If you consider the possibility of medical errors, you likely do not pay it much attention, believing them to be relatively rare.  

Unfortunately, medical errors may be more common than you realize. CNBC reports on a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University a few years ago concluding that medical errors are, in fact, the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.  

The incidence of death due to medical errors in the United States could range anywhere from 250,000 per year to 440,000 per year. The Johns Hopkins study reported the former figure, but other studies have put the incidence much higher. The discrepancy comes in part from the method that the Centers for Disease Control use to post statistics. The CDC bases the statistics on the information found on death certificates. However, coroners, medical examiners, funeral directors, etc. rarely list system failures or human errors on death certificates.  

The doctor in charge of the Johns Hopkins study has written a letter to the CDC encouraging it to change the way it collects vital health statistics to more accurately reflect the prevalence of deaths due to medical errors. As of 2018, the CDC had not made any changes.  

The information in this article is not intended as legal advice but provided for educational purposes only.