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Medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals kill as many as 440,000 a year

Most Pennsylvanians realize that there are inherent risks involved in receiving medical care. The logic is simple: medical professionals are human, and humans make mistakes. But many don't understand just how common medical malpractice is, and how many patients are harmed or killed by preventable medical errors.

For more than a decade, the media has been citing a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine showing that mistakes in U.S. hospitals contribute to or cause the deaths of 98,000 people per year. One study, however, says that number is far too low. According to recent research, there may be between 210,000 and 440,000 deaths each year related to mistakes in hospital care.

In response to the new estimate, groups like the American Hospital Association have said that they are essentially sticking with the estimate made in the 1999 Institute of Medicine report. But some of the medical professionals who worked on the original report admit that they knew even then that their estimate was likely too low, and was based on methodology that was "somewhat crude."

Many in the medical community are now saying that the new estimate appears to be both accurate and alarming. If medical errors are indeed responsible for up to 440,000 deaths per year, they would be recognized as the third-leading cause of death in the United States. The first two are heart disease and cancer.

Studies like this most recent one should serve as a wake-up call to both hospital administrators and government policymakers. For the rest of us, such reports provide an important reminder: medical errors are more common than people realize, and hospitals are often reluctant to admit it when they make a mistake.

If you or a loved one was seriously injured or killed in the course of medical treatment and you suspect that preventable mistakes were made, you have other options besides simply trusting that what the doctor or hospital says is true. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can help you uncover what truly took place and whether the hospital or doctor may be liable. 

Source: IdeaStream.org, "How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?" Sept. 20, 2013

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