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The prevalence of medical errors

According to data from researchers at Johns Hopkins, medical errors may be the third-leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease and cancer. However, it is difficult to determine the exact number of deaths attributable to medical errors because of a lack of official data. When a patient dies in New York or elsewhere in the country, the cause of death must usually correlate with an insurance billing code.

These codes may be inadequate in determining whether a death was caused by doctor or system error as opposed to other reasons. One example involved a patient who had a organ transplant and later returned to the hospital for unknown reasons. During testing, a doctor cut the patient's liver without realizing it. The patient later died, but the official cause of death was not a doctor error. Instead, it listed the official cause of death as a cardiovascular issue.

Researchers have suggested a series of reforms that could improve accuracy when mistakes are made. For instance, death certificates could ask if a death was related to doctor error. If it is, the doctor would still enjoy some protection from legal action to ensure that the truth is heard and accurate data can be collected. Another suggestion was to put barcodes on all surgical equipment to account for all tools before, during and after surgery.

If a patient is harmed because of a doctor error, it may or may not constitute medical malpractice. It has to be determined that the doctor failed to live up to the requisite standard of care, and an attorney for an injured patient will endeavor to do so through a review of the applicable EHRs and the opinions of medical experts.

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