Why You Don't See Hospital Errors On Cause of Death Lists
Doctors at the John Hopkins University School of Medicine had reason to suspect that medical malpractice and hospital errors were causing widespread and preventable deaths around the United States each year. But when they turned to official sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the information wasn’t reliable or, in some cases, completely missing. Making up their own system of determining when hospital error causes death and studying more than 8 years’ worth of data from hospitals around the country, they determined that close to 250,000 people were losing their lives each year to hospital mistakes.
Dr. Makary and medical student Mr. Daniel considered a hospital error to be:
- An accidental act or an action that does not cause the intended outcome
- Failing to complete an intended act
- Failing to plan an intended action as necessary
- Any sort of deviation from accepted medical processes and procedures
The number they came up with labels it conclusively as the third leading cause of death in the country, and yet the CDC says otherwise. Their own reports list the top three to be heart disease, cancer, and respiratory failure. So what is going on to cause the discrepancy?
The answer may be simpler than expected. International Classification of Disease (ICD) codes are used on death certificates to list the cause of death. But there is no ICD code for “doctor made a mistake”. Imagine that a doctor’s decision to double a patient’s dosage led to a fatal overdose. It would clearly be a hospital error but the death certificate would still only use the ICD code associated with a drug overdose or the specific symptoms that overdose caused, such as respiratory failure. This misleading reporting system may have been hiding this problem of deadly hospital errors for years, perhaps ever since the system was devised more than 100 years ago.
It would seem that a simple change to common death certificates in the country could shed light on this widespread problem. There has been no official remark as to whether or not this update will happen, though. Some are concerned that it is simply unreasonable to know with certainty when a hospital error is the actual cause.
Be sure to check for updates on this ongoing story here in our blog. Or, if you need help with a medical malpractice claim of your own, you can contact our Toledo personal injury attorneys today for more information about our services here at Williams DeClark Tuschman Co., L.P.A.