Today's Washington Post headline warns:
Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States
The article goes on to say that researchers at Johns Hopkins estimate that 251,454 deaths per year are caused by medical errors, following death from heart disease and cancer, and exceeding death from respiratory disease, accidents, etc.
They go on to quote one of the researchers:
"We all know how common it is," [Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School] said. "We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed."
As a layman, I might well believe this article. But I'm not a layman. I'm an insider, until recently a busy Emergency Department physician, who worked with a lot of other doctors simultaneously and over long periods of time, who knows a lot about doctors in the community, who saw a lot of different patients and a lot of outcomes. I'm not blind to errors (they are very powerful teachers) - we all make them, and many of us do talk about them in hushed, confidential tones. We all know that sometimes medications are ordered in the wrong dosages, or meds are given to the wrong patient, that critical diagnoses are sometimes missed, and even much worse*. But with all the patients I've seen and cared for - and I have seen a lot of death both in the ED and on the 'floors' (other parts of the hospital) - they are not dropping like flies around me because of bad medical care, at least not that I can see.
Is it likely that these numbers are accurate, or more likely that minor errors are weighed in a manner which exaggerates the results? Or, is this article and its claims true?
I did see this question, the answer to which uses some of the same numbers, and of which my question might be considered a duplicate.
*I saw my first death from medical error as a fourth-year medical student during an ED rotation in the busiest ED in the country at the time. Someone had fallen from a building and arrived unconscious. Even as a medical student, I had heard the rule, never place an ng (nasogastric) tube in a patient with a severe head injury until a basilar skull fracture had been ruled out. One of the residents had placed an ng tube in the patient, and I will never forget the xray of the entire ng tube coiled in the patient's skull. As I said, mistakes are very powerful teachers, even the mistakes of others, and are not easily forgotten.