How Common Is Medical Malpractice?
A 2016 study released by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers found that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States.
An estimated 250,000 people are killed each year by medical errors. For comparison, around 591,000 people will die of cancer and 614,000 of heart disease every year in the United States. (Fourth in line is chronic lower respiratory disease, which takes 147,000 people a year; fifth is motor vehicle accidents, at around 136,000.)
The true danger of medical errors is that they contribute to every other common cause of death. If a doctor does not order a test in time, his patient could die from treatable condition, such as ovarian cancer. That death will be attributed to cancer—but was cancer the real cause, when treatment was available? Medical errors are underreported and even covered up by hospitals and practitioners as a whole, according to the study’s researchers. Some claim the death toll is closer to 440,000 from medical mistakes alone.
In a country where we have advanced technology at our fingertips—and 12% of our labor force dedicated to the healthcare industry—this is an alarming statistic.
What Is Medical Malpractice?
It is important to distinguish between a medical error and medical malpractice.
As Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” Though robots have started doing surgery themselves, physicians are still the first line of defense in our age-long struggle against disease, injury, and death. They are very human—and make mistakes all the time. That is normal. It becomes unacceptable and rises to the level of malpractice when the healthcare provider acts negligently—breaching the standard of care that all healthcare providers are held to—and a patient is injured as a direct result. This precedent goes all the way back to ancient times: the idea that the doctor would “do no undue harm” to his patient.
Let’s look at one example. In 2010, a woman in Florida went to her doctor with a sore throat. The doctor, a throat specialist, lanced the infected tonsils in his office. He prescribed pills of the powerful narcotic oxycodone every four hours for her pain. By the next morning, the 43-year-old wife and mother was dead. The drug, in its exact prescribed dose, had killed her. A responsible doctor would not have prescribed it. This tragedy should never have happened; yet it happens all the time.
What Are Common Types of Negligence?
Researchers from the Robert Graham Center studied 49,345 medical malpractice claims against primary care physicians in the U.S. from 1985–2000. They found that 73% of the claims had four underlying causes:
- Diagnostic error (34%)
- Failure to supervise/monitor case (16%)
- Improper performance (15%)
- Medication errors (8%)
But many other factors “facilitated harm,” including things like “problems with records,” which alone contributed to 439 claims and 156 deaths in the 15 years reviewed. The researchers also found that the majority of claims correlated to these conditions:
- Heart attack
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
- Colon cancer
- Brain damage to an infant during birth
This data appear to confirm that doctors tend to make more mistakes when it comes to the leading causes of death: heart disease and cancer. When life is on the line like this—and it is our loved one being rushed to the hospital—these mistakes simply cannot be made.
Our healthcare system is deeply flawed, and many people are being hurt as a result. But speaking to a medical malpractice lawyer—especially one who cares deeply about victims and understands how American healthcare currently works—can help. For confidential consultation with the attorneys at Leventhal & Puga, P.C., call (877) 433-3906. There is no charge, and we will investigate your case and let you know if and how we can help you and your family.