Medical Mistakes Are Killing Patients at Alarming Rates

New research shows it is third behind heart disease and cancer.

Medication mistakes and the absence of protocols are among the medical errors that researchers at Johns Hopkins say are killing patients in the U.S., behind heart disease and cancer.

According to the research team, the new study shows 10 percent of all U.S. deaths are now due to medical errors, and the statistic is being ignored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, because of record keeping.

“Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics,” said Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an authority on health reform. “The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used.”

In 1949, Makary says, the U.S. adopted an international form that used International Classification of Diseases billing codes to tally causes of death.

“At that time, it was under-recognized that diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets could result in someone’s death, and because of that, medical errors were unintentionally excluded from national health statistics,” he said.

Researchers were clear not to place the blame solely on doctors.

Rather, they say, most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or underuse of safety nets and other protocols.

So, how can packaging help?

Healthcare Packaging's legal columnist Eric F. Greenberg touched on some of this in his recent column, "Medication Errors? Packaging Can Help."

He explains that a new FDA guidance document recognizes the critical role packaging and labeling plays, and offers advice for using them to cut down on errors.

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