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How common are medical errors in the United States?

Medical errors are the United States' third-largest cause of death, making it a very serious problem in hospitals, clinics and other facilities. While the medical community says it wants to reduce the number of injuries and deaths suffered, the fact is that medical errors still happen and still cost many people their lives each year. When families are involved in a situation with a medical-error-caused death, it can lead to long processes of litigation and negotiations for a settlement for their loss.

Are all medical errors reported?

Many hospitals have what's known as an error-reporting program, error-detecting program or patient-safety program. These programs are designed to be used when a physician or patient has to report an error or adverse event that takes place. The problem is that many adverse events are not reported, and some states don't require reporting at all.

What kinds of costs result from medical errors?

There are various costs. According to a study supported by the Department of Health and Human Services in 2008 that looked at Medicare patients, unexpected adverse events led to 15,000 deaths. Around 44 percent of those were preventable. Cost wise, these deaths resulted in costs around $324 million each month, billed to Medicare.

The costs don't stop there. Families have funeral costs, lost wages and medical bills to pay for, many of which are spurred toward higher rates because of longer hospital stays or errors that require additional surgeries or interventions. For those who don't die, long-term care needs and other issues could be a heavy draw on their finances.

Source: Open Health News, "Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death, And What Can Be Done About It," James B. Lieber, accessed Jan. 21, 2016

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