FROM THE BLOG
In May of 2016, the British Journal of Medicine (BJM) published a report by American physician Dr. Martin Makary, Professor of Surgery at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The article, titled “Medical Error – the Third Leading Cause of Death in the US,” has sparked much discussion among patients, physicians, and the healthcare community at large. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publishes annual statistics on the leading causes of death in the US, Dr. Makary pointed out that the CDC has failed to gather any data on the number of US deaths from medical errors. He believed that the true number of medical errors in the US is not well understood, and advocated for a closer look at patient deaths resulting from medical errors.
According to the BJM article, previous studies approximating the number of annual deaths per year from medical errors grossly underestimated the actual number of victims. In fact, based upon his review of literature and available data, Dr. Makary believed that medical errors accounted for approximately 251,000 patient deaths per year. This number would make medical error deaths the third most common cause of death in the US, second only to cancer and heart disease.
One of the reasons cited in the article for the underestimation of the prevalence of medical errors was the secrecy in which they are discussed and addressed, if at all. Many systemic mechanisms protect physicians, staff, and the institution itself when a medical error occurs. This veil of secrecy results in only a “fraction” of detected adverse events being brought to light beyond the institution or department in which they occur.
In Florida, a closed-doors approach exists in the medical-legal environment due to laws that encourage healthcare providers to investigate adverse patient outcomes in confidentiality. The goal of encouraging retrospective investigations is that a review process will lead to the prevention of future errors. Florida citizens have voted that these processes should be confidential, but not without some qualifications. This shroud of confidentiality can make investigating a potential medical malpractice case difficult. There are no laws that require that a hospital or physician alert a patient to the occurrence of a medical error, or that the patient’s case is under investigation. However, there is some information patients and families may be able to uncover from internal review processes concerning a patient. The patient and patient’s lawyer must be prepared and committed to wage an informed quest for uncovering confidential information that may be vital to the case.
Not all medical injuries result from medical errors, and not all medical errors result in injury. This determination requires careful assistance of both an experienced lawyer and a medical expert. If you believe you or a loved one has suffered a medical error that has caused physical pain and injury, please contact the Patient’s Law Firm to speak directly with nurse attorney Christa Carpenter.