Since the Institute of Medicine reported in 1999 that over 100,000 Americans die from medical mistakes every year, no major initiative has been undertaken to reduce the mounting healthcare costs and huge emotional toll caused by these epidemic rates of medical negligence. Rather than identifying and addressing root causes of this national embarrassment, doctors and their organizations have focused their efforts towards enacting tort reform legislation to insulate themselves from liability and leave their victims with inadequate compensation.
A newer report showed that the crisis may be even worse than originally reported by the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Barbara Starfield of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the rate of death from physician-related errors may be 225,000 annually or higher.
The article, published in JAMA’s July 26, 2000 issue lists the following categories that make up the estimated 225,000 deaths per year:
- 12,000 per year from unnecessary surgery
- 7,000 per year from medication errors
- 20,000 per year from other hospital errors
- 80,000 per year from hospital infections
- 106,000 per year from non-error, negative effects of drugs
Dr. Starfield points out two major limitations to this data:
- First, the data relates largely to hospitalized patients only, not patients who die as a result of poor care in an outpatient setting.
- Second, the data references deaths only, not catastrophic injuries.
If higher estimates are used, the deaths due to physician-related causes would range from 230,000 to 284,000. In any case, 225,000 deaths per year constitutes the third leading cause of death in the United States, after deaths from heart disease and cancer.