An article published in The BMJ Journal by Martin Makary and Michael Daniel on May 3rd, 2016 identified that medical errors are the third most common killer in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not report medical error on death certificates, resulting in public ignorance as to the scale of fatal mistakes during patient care. Death certificates rely on the International Classification of Diseases coding system, which does not include a classification for “medical error”.
According to the researchers, medical error was the cause of death in 251,000 cases in 2013, beating lung disease, suicide and motor vehicle deaths combined. The two leading causes of death in 2013 were heart disease (661,000) and cancer (585,000). Examples of such errors include patients being handed the incorrect medication, infections from improperly sterilized equipment, accidental cuts on the operating table, and many more.
“Although we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility, and consequences” say the authors. “Strategies to reduce death from medical care should include three steps: making errors more visible when they occur so their effects can be intercepted; having remedies at hand to rescue patients; and making errors less frequent by following principles that take human limitations into account”. Of course another major strategy should be educating practitioners on best practices for those procedures which most commonly result in accidental deaths.
Clearly this study has implications for healthcare recruiters and human resources managers as well. When hiring for open positions it is crucial that an employer has the opportunity to interview the most highly qualified candidate. That isn’t possible if only one or two applicants express interest and show up for a job interview. Strong recruiting platforms are necessary to empower employers to survey a range of would-be employees, and that’s where the quantity of applicants breeds quality in eventual employee performance.
Patients should also be empowered to make intelligent decisions about their care. By publishing more data about medical errors, and utilizing resources like Hospital Safety Score, patients can choose the medical teams which are more likely to provide incident-free care.
Martin A Makary, Michael Daniel. “Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US”. BMJ 2016;353:i2139