How Common Are Deaths Due To Medical Errors? April 1, 2023.

How Common Are Deaths Due To Medical Errors?

Deaths due to medical errors are a frightening thought. When your loved one enters a hospital or other medical facility for treatment, you expect the medical professionals to improve their health. At a minimum, you expect them to avoid harming your loved one's health. Learn more about the risk of fatality due to medical errors.

How Many Preventable Deaths Are Caused by Medical Errors Every Year?

Every year, medical errors in U.S. hospitals harm millions of people. Many of these mistakes result in preventable deaths. 

Medical error cause of death statistics:

  • You are twice as likely to die at the lowest-performing hospitals in the U.S.
  • You have a 2.3 times greater chance of death at the lowest-performing hospitals.
  • Depending on the hospital that treats you, you can be five times more likely to die from a heart attack.
  • The top 10% of U.S. hospitals are 10 times safer than those in the bottom 10%.
  • A central venous catheter is 18 times more likely to cause a blood infection when a poor-performing hospital treats you.

The hospital that treats you can influence your chances of being harmed by a medical error. It can also increase your risk of death.

Hospitals with a higher quality of care tend to enforce better safety practices among their healthcare providers.

Medical error leading cause of death

meta-analysis of eight studies of inpatient deaths conducted by Yale School of Medicine attempted to determine the number of preventable deaths related to medical error in the U.S. each year. According to the study, medical error is responsible for fewer deaths than previously estimated. The study found the following:

  • More than 22,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year due to medical errors.
  • Only 7,150 of these deaths occur in previously healthy individuals.
  • Most medical errors that led to a fatality involved diagnostic errors, procedural errors, surgery-related errors, and poor medical-condition monitoring or management.

The Yale study noted one explanation for the drop in medical error annual death rates of up to 250,000. The study suggests that the high-estimate studies published more than 20 years ago may have triggered increased hospital oversight, contributing to today's lower fatality risk.

However, the annual fatality rate of 22,000 patients due to medical errors is still too high.

Factors That Contribute to the Occurrence of Medical Errors

Medical errors that lead to a fatality are often classified as preventable harm. 

A recent medical review article states several factors contribute to fatal and non-fatal medical errors. These include:

  • Distractions
  • Faulty memory
  • Fatigue
  • Noise
  • Performance pressure
  • Poor communication
  • Sleep deficit
  • Wrong plan due to a lack of skill or training, a knowledge gap, or fixation on one hypothesis

Common Types of Medical Errors That Can Result in Patient Death

There are also specific medical errors linked to patient deaths, including issues related to medication, surgery, diagnosis, and wound infections.

Medication-Related Errors

More than 6,000 drugs and medications are available in the U.S., which can complicate a patient's medical care. 

The most common reasons for medication errors include:

  • Confusion over similarly named medications
  • Confusion over similarly packaged drugs
  • Failure to communicate medication orders
  • Incorrect drug selection from a drop-down menu
  • Mistakes involving the medication weight or wrong dose
  • Poor handwriting

These medication-related errors can occur at various points in the medical care process. However, the mistake is most likely to happen during one of the following:

  • Prescribing
  • Ordering
  • Documenting
  • Transcribing
  • Dispensing
  • Administering
  • Monitoring

Prescribing and ordering accounts for nearly 50% of all medication errors.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are another common medical mistake that can result in death or serious damage. Some of the most common surgical errors in the U.S. include:

  • Surgical site infections
  • Wrong site or wrong procedure surgery
  • Timely response to in-surgery and post-operative complications

Surgical errors involving the wrong site or procedure are the most common reason for quality-of-care violations in U.S. hospitals.

Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic errors refer to a medical practitioner's delayed, incorrect, or missed diagnosis.

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality estimates that of the 130 million annual emergency department visits in the U.S., 7.4 million, or 5.7%, of these patients are misdiagnosed. Of the misdiagnosed patients, the following adverse medical results occur:

  • The patient suffers an adverse event (2.6 million or 2%).
  • The patient suffers serious harm (370,000 or 0.3%).
  • The patient dies (50 deaths per 25,000 annual emergency department visits).

The agency found five conditions that account for 39% of serious misdiagnoses-related injuries:

  1. Stroke
  2. Myocardial infarction
  3. Aortic aneurysm or dissection
  4. Spinal cord injury or compression
  5. Venous thromboembolism

A stroke diagnosis is missed approximately 17% of the time.

Of U.S. emergency department misdiagnosis events, roughly 1 in 350 will result in the patient's death or permanent disability. 

Wound Infections

Wound infections following surgery are another area of medical error resulting in death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted a healthcare-associated infection survey and found the following:

  • 2015: Approximately 110,800 surgical site infections were related to inpatient surgeries.
  • 2021: The surgical site infection ratio increased by approximately 3% compared to the previous year.
  • 2021: This infection ratio increase over the previous year occurred despite no significant changes related to operating procedures.

Advances in infection-control practices include improvements in:

  • Availability of antimicrobial prevention
  • Barriers
  • Operating room ventilation
  • Sterilization methods
  • Surgical technique

Surgical site infections account for 20% of all healthcare infections, resulting in an increased fatality risk by 2 to 11 times.

Get Justice for Your Loved One - Contact Us

No hospital or healthcare provider can save every patient. However, it is unacceptable when your loved one's death is due to a medical error. Whether a misdiagnosis or an avoidable disease caused their death, this unnecessary loss of life is inexcusable.

If your loved one has died due to a medical error, the medical malpractice attorneys at The Mellino Law Firm can help. 

At The Mellino Law Firm, we limit our cases to the patients and families who have suffered the most substantial losses and injuries. This selectivity helps us ensure you receive the specialized attention your case deserves. 

Contact us today to schedule your free consultation.