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Study: Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in United States

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Medical MalpracticeBALTIMORE -- More than 250,000 Americans die each year as the result of medical errors, according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The study, authored by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Mackary, suggests medical errors rank as the third leading cause of non-violent death -- behind heart disease and cancer -- in the United States.

The findings come from an analysis of death rate records spanning eight years.

"Human error is inevitable," Makary wrote in the study. "But while we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility, and consequences."

Data was compiled from a combination of Medicare and 13 other hospitals, which researchers examined to determine that the estimated annual rate of deaths from medical errors is 251,454 in the U.S.

The category includes everything from bad doctors to more systemic issues, such as communication breakdowns when patients are handed off from one department to another, Mackary told The Washington Post.

"It boils down to people dying from the care that they receive rather than the disease for which they are seeking care," Makary said.

Published in the British Medical Journal, Makary told The Washington Post that the study was conducted to create conversation about a problem that many hospitals and health care facilities attempt to avoid.

In an open letter, Mackary -- the surgical director of the Johns Hopkins Multidisciplinary Pancreas Clinic -- urges the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death.

"The list of most common causes of death published is very important," Mackary said in a statement. "It informs our country's research and public health priorities each year."

Heart disease reportedly kills 615,000 Americans yearly and cancer claims the lives of more than 590,000. Chronic lower respiratory disease accounts for 147,101 deaths annually, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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