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Medical errors lead to thousands of deaths every year across the United States.  The numbers are staggering at 440,000 per year, but they are preventable.

These medical errors can happen due to a wrong diagnosis, being prescribed the wrong medication, surgical errors or infections that go undetected.

Patient Safety America was created to help inform patients about healthcare in the United States.  Dr. John T. James, Ph.D., runs the advocacy organization.  It’s dedicated to his son who died at 19 years of age from what Dr. James calls “uninformed, careless, and unethical care by cardiologists.”

The patient advocacy organization site shows that medical errors are the third leading cause of death behind heart disease and cancer.  It also found:

• First-year mortality rates in the U.S. ranks 42nd of all countries as of 2009 using data from the United Nations
• The U.S. ranks 39th when it comes to maternal mortality
• U.S. ranks 19th out of 19 developed counties in deaths that are otherwise preventable
• We are paying about twice as much per person for U.S. health care

A study was released in the Journal of Patient Safety  in September 2013 to provide an updated number of deaths that were due to medical errors.  A report was released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that found about 98,000 Americans who died every year due to medical errors.  This was based on data from 1984.

The 2013 study, “A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Association with Hospital Care,” took a look at four studies and found that the “true number” of deaths related to medical errors exceeded 400,000 per year.

How You Can Prevent Medical Errors

As a patient, you are your own best advocate.  If you feel you are incapable of making important medical decisions on your own, ask a trusted family member or friend to join you at your doctor’s appointments.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality outlines tips for patients to prevent medical errors.  It outlines 20 suggestions, including the following:

• Keep a list of all medications you are currently taking, and any medications you are allergic to
• Read prescriptions from doctors and ask any questions you have at the time he or she prescribes it to you
• Always ask about any possible side effects that your medication can cause.  If it is not provided with the medication, ask for written information
• During a hospital stay, make sure any health care worker washes his or her hands before touching you to prevent the spread of infection
• Make sure you are aware of any new treatment plan you must follow after you are discharged
• If you have to have surgery, and you have a choice, pick a hospital where the procedure or surgery has been performed numerous times
• Before surgery make sure everyone is on the same page about what is going to be done
• Ask family members or a friend to come with you to your appointments
• Find out why you are told you “need” a certain test or treatment, sometimes you might be better off without it
• Always, always speak up and talk to your doctor about any and all concerns


  1. Gravatar for jc

    The same old same old discredited statistics about widespread medical mistakes causing injury and death. In 3 decades of working in a hospital, you would think that I would have seen tons of preventable deaths if these statistics are true. I can think of only a few. The leading cause of patient death and debility are the patients disease process. The second leading cause of patient death and disability are unwillingness to follow the medical directions. Rarely (< 1%) of deaths are caused by physician or hospital malpractice. But what about plaintiff attorney errors? Did you know that plaintiff attorneys lose 85% of the cases that they take to trial. This is a failure rate unknown anywhere in American Industry!

  2. Gravatar for Eric Chaffin
    Eric Chaffin

    I always enjoy when someone who claims to work in science extrapolates from alleged personal experience. The numbers don't lie. I am interested in your source on the number of cases that are lost. If you are implying that plaintiffs allegedly lose so many because of negligent handling of cases, that means that 100 percent are valid cases? Not sure that is your point but certainly a fair reading. Errors happen in any profession and the goal should be to minimize them. Hopefully JC you will leave your full name and facility so we can evaluate your comments in proper context.

  3. Gravatar for jc

    Eric: My malpractice carrier tells me that they win 90% of their cases at trial and my trial attorney tells me that he wins 85%. Here are some statistics that I got off the web from Pennsylvania regarding defense wins.

    Year #cases # defense verdicts %def. wins

    2008 161 131 81.4%

    2010 163 133 81.6%

    2012 135 106 78.5%

    Losing 80-90% of the cases that go to trial indicates that plaintiff attorneys usually do not know what they are doing. That failure rate is unmatched anywhere else in American Industry. To me, it indicates that there needs to be a change in the medical legal justice system.

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