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Medical Error Called a Top 3 Cause of Death

BALTIMORE (CN) — Medical error is the third largest cause of death in the United States, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine reported.

Published Wednesday in The BMJ, a British medical journal, the study found that as many as 250,000 people died from preventable mistakes.

This number takes into account only inpatient deaths, however, and fails to take into account deaths resulting from medical error at nursing homes, in-home care and deaths as the result of outpatient medical care.

The study's authors, professor Martin Makary and research fellow Michael Daniel, said medical-error deaths are only outpaced by heart disease and cancer, which each claim about 600,000 lives per year.

As U.S. death certificates do not report on the number of deaths from medical error, Wednesday's report relies on data from several studies.

The United States is one of more than 100 other nations that use a system for collecting national health statistics recommended by the World Health Organization that does not keep track of medical errors.

"Moving away from a requirement that only reasons for death with an International Classification of Disease code can be used on death certificates could better inform healthcare research and awareness priorities," the report in BMJ says.

Experts do not know the exact number of people who die from botched surgeries, faulty prescriptions or a computer glitch, simply because no one is keeping count. An earlier study estimated the toll to be as high as 440,000 deaths a year.

"Instead of simply requiring cause of death, death certificates could contain an extra field asking whether a preventable complication stemming from the patient's medical care contributed to the death," the BMJ report continues.

The report's authors suggest better data on the problem could be determined if death certificates asked whether a preventable problem stemming from the patient's medical care might have contributed to the death.While human error can never be eliminated in health care, protocols and "safety nets" can be put in place to track medical errors and reduce their number, the researchers concluded.

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