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Medical Mistakes: Third Most Common Cause of Death in the U.S.

A new study was released last week (May 11, 2016) by the British Medical Journal, estimating that medical mistakes are the third

medical mistakes - Altizer Law, P.C.

Sick girl and her mother visiting doctor

most common cause of death in the U.S. [Source:, “Medical error – the third leading cause of death in the US,” accessed on May 18, 2016] The study ranked heart disease as the leading cause of death and cancer as the second.

The study estimates medical mistakes as the third most common cause of death because death certificates in the U.S. do not list medical errors as a cause of death. The study’s analysts concluded (after a great deal of work) that an understated number of 250,000 people die from medical mistakes in the U.S. each year.

Many Americans invest a great deal of time and research into their choice of a physician, especially a primary care physician. Many others rely on the recommendations of family and friends. When it comes to specialists, most rely upon the recommendations of their primary care physicians or of other specialists. When admitted to a hospital, nearly all of us depend upon the selection process used by the hospital when hiring hospitalists to care for their patients.

We are all familiar with the famous phrase that is part of the Hippocratic Oath, to “first, do no harm.” We also know that most doctors chose the medical profession out of a desire to help people. Unfortunately none of us is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. But when physicians and other medical professionals make mistakes, the consequences are typically very serious.

Most of us believe, and trust, that the doctors and hospitals we choose are competent and that they will provide the highest level of medical care. We never anticipate that we might become victims of some medical mistake. If you believe any physician has made a medical mistake – also known as medical malpractice – that has caused you, or a loved one, harm or death, you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit or a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the physician responsible, to recover related medical expenses, and perhaps to also recover punitive damages from the physician’s or hospital’s insurance company. Altizer Law, P.C., has helped many families recover financial compensation in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Among the top medical mistakes in the U.S. are:

  • Technical medical error
  • Failure to use indicated tests
  • Avoidable delay in treatment
  • Failure to take appropriate precautions, including infection prevention
  • Failure to act on test results
  • Inadequate monitoring after a procedure
  • Inadequate patient preparation before a procedure
  • Inadequate follow-up after treatment
  • Avoidable delay in diagnosis/Failure to diagnose/misdiagnosis
  • Medication errors
  • Inappropriate blood transfusions
  • Wrong amount of oxygen given to premature babies
  • Infections from central lines
  • Performing the wrong procedure
  • Unnecessary tests, procedures and treatments

When visiting a physician’s office or when admitted to a hospital, remember that you have the right to ask questions and to challenge treatments and procedures you believe are unnecessary or inappropriate. Ask your doctor to explain everything you do not understand. If the answers are vague or do not make sense, you have the right to request a second opinion from another physician.

Medical mistakes may be the third most common cause of death in the U.S., but you have the right to ask any questions and challenge any recommendations that you think are wrong. When patients and their families are alert, some medical mistakes can be prevented. However, if a mistake is made, talk with an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can advise you of your options and help you and your family recover from the harm done through medical mistake.