Medical errors could be third leading cause of death in the U.S.

A recent issue of the Journal of Patient Safety features an article with startling new numbers on deaths per year due in some way to hospital errors. According to the study by the group Patient Safety America, a minimum of 210,000 patients and up to 440,000 patients receive care in our nation's hospitals that contributes to their death. Those are numbers that should make any Washington, D.C. resident take note.

Reporting challenges

The wide range in number of deaths accounts for the challenges in collecting accurate data. A faculty member at Johns Hopkins Hospital indicated different reasons that medical errors are not reported, including the push for profits by hospitals and tracking issues. The Patient Safety America study numbers puts medical errors in the number three position for the leading causes of death in America, behind only heart disease and cancer.

Realities of medical malpractice lawsuits

Medical malpractice cases can be hard to pursue but are important when true errors or negligence has occurred. Becker's Hospital Review outlines 2012 data for such lawsuits:

  • A total of 12,142 payouts adding up to $3.6 billion were made to patients or their representatives.
  • Five percent of payments were the result of judgments and 93 percent were from settlements.
  • Of all payouts, 45 percent were for inpatient errors, 41 percent for outpatient errors and nine percent for a combination.
  • The most common reasons for lawsuits were related to diagnosis , surgery and treatment, accounting for 75 percent of claims.

Significant or major permanent injury and death lead the list of injuries alleged in claims comprising together 68 percent. The need for lifetime care due to a brain injury or resulting quadriplegic status accounted for another 12 percent.

Washington, D.C. laws

Unlike many states, Washington, D.C. has no cap on non-economic damage awards for medical malpractice lawsuits. There is also no cap on attorney fees. If a medical malpractice claim is to be filed, it must be claimed within three years of the date of injury or three years from the date of the patient's eighteenth birthday if the patient was a minor at the time of the injury.

What patients can do

Patient action is important and can help to reduce the chance of some errors. Requesting that providers wash hands, asking to review your own chart and seeking a second opinion are just some of the ways that you can be involved in your healthcare and the safety of it.

In addition, if you believe that you or a family member has been injured or affected by a medical error, you should consult with an experienced lawyer. A clear and complete understanding of the laws and parameters surrounding your situation will be the best way for you to identify your ideal course of action.