Medical Mistakes in Hospitals: Third Leading Cause of Death in America

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders held hearings in July on the topic of medical mistakes. The key message: Preventable medical errors in hospitals are the third leading cause of death in the United States. According to information presented at the hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging and published on Sanders' website, only heart disease and cancer kill more Americans. 
“Medical harm is a major cause of suffering, disability, and death – as well as a huge financial cost to our nation. This is a problem that has not received anywhere near the attention that it deserves and today I hope that we can focus a spotlight on this matter of such grave consequence.”
— U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders
The Journal of Patient Safety recently published a study which concluded that as many as 440,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors in hospitals.Tens of thousands also die from preventable mistakes outside hospitals, such as deaths from missed diagnoses or because of injuries from medications.

Key facts from the hearing:
  • One in 25 hospital patients gets an infection from being in the hospital. In 2011, these hospital-acquired infections caused 700,000 people to get sick and 75,000 people to die (CDC, 2011).
  • 15,000 Medicare patients die each month from a preventable adverse event (180,000 deaths/year) (HHS OIG, 2010, pg. ii).
  • At least one in 20 patients is misdiagnosed in the outpatient setting (BMJ Quality and Safety, 2014), and 80,000 patients die each year from diagnostic errors (WaPo 2013; WSJ 2013).

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