Patient Care

Better Reporting Needed to Accurately Estimate Medical Error as Cause of Death in U.S.


Clinical question: What is the contribution of hospital-based medical errors to national mortality in the U.S. compared to other causes listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

Background: Medical error can contribute to patient mortality. Currently, the annual list of the most common causes of death in the U.S. is compiled by the CDC using the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) codes on death certificates. Deaths caused by errors are unmeasured because medical errors are not included in the death certificate.

Study design: Analysis of existing literature on medical errors.

Setting: U.S. hospitals.

Synopsis: Findings of four studies on U.S. death rates from medical errors published between 2000 and 2008 were synthesized and extrapolated to the total number of U.S. hospital admissions in 2013. This resulted in a mean rate of death from medical errors of 251,454 per year, which is much higher than the annual incidence of 44,000–98,000 deaths published in the 1999 Institute of Medicine report. Comparing these data to the CDC ranking makes medical errors the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.

Although the accuracy of this result is limited to inpatient deaths and as the authors extrapolated the data from other studies, the number is still staggering and highlights the need for systematic measurement of the problem. One simple solution for this could be to have an extra field on the death certificate asking whether a preventable complication stemming from the patient’s medical care contributed to the death.

Bottom line: Medical error as the estimated third-leading cause of the death in the U.S. remains under-recognized, underappreciated, and highly unmeasured.

Citation: Makary MA, Daniel M. Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ. 2016;353:i2139.

Short Take

Isolating C. Difficile Carriers Decreases Hospital-Acquired C. Difficile Infections

In a nonblinded time-series analysis, screening all patients for asymptomatic C. diff carrier status and isolating carriers reduced rates of hospital-acquired C. diff, preventing 62.4% of expected cases.

Citation: Longtin Y, Paquet-Bolduc B, Gilca R, et al. Effect of detecting and isolating Clostridium difficile carriers at hospital admission on the incidence of C difficile infections: a quasi-experimental controlled study. JAMA Inter Med. 2016;176(6):796¬-804.

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