The results of a Johns Hopkins study criticizes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s method of gathering national health statistics. John Hopkins is America's first research university. The researchers at John Hopkins state the CDC fails to separately classify medical errors on the death certificate.
If medical errors were properly classified, the researchers believe medical errors are the third top cause of death in the United States. Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H., professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine stated the current system does not properly tally the causes of death: “The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used,” according to Insurance Journal.
The CDC is an operating component of the Department of Health and Human Services. The John Hopkins researchers want the CDC to update criteria for classifying deaths on death certificates to recognize medical errors as the reasons for deaths. Makary says: “At that time, it was under-recognized that diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets could result in someone’s death, and because of that, medical errors were unintentionally excluded from national health statistics,” according to Insurance Journal.
The John Hopkins researchers looked at four studies that analyzed medical death rate data from 2000 to 2008. One study was done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Using hospital admission rates from 2013, the researchers extrapolated that based on 35,416,020 hospitalizations, 251,454 deaths resulted from a medical error. The researchers translate the number of deaths from medical error to 9.5 percent of all deaths each year in the nation.
In 2013, according to the CDC, 611,105 people died of heart disease, 584,881 died of cancer and 149,205 died of chronic respiratory disease. These were the top three causes of death reported by the CDC in the United States. If medical error could be properly added up, it would have been the third cause of death, edging out chronic respiratory disease.
Makary says: “Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country’s research funding and public health priorities,” according to Insurance Journal. Because medical errors are not on the list, the issue does not get the money and attention as heart disease and cancer.
The John Hopkins researchers report that most medical errors are not because of bad physicians. Learning about medical errors should not be through legal action. Most errors come from systemic problems such as fragmented insurance networks, and variation in physician practice.
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