By Jonathan Springston, Associate Managing Editor, AHC Media

Medical errors lead to more than 250,000 annual deaths in the United States, claiming more lives than several other maladies, according to a recent analysis from researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

After studying eight years of available statistics, Johns Hopkins researchers determined that medical errors surpass what the CDC currently classifies as the third-leading cause of death in the United States – respiratory disease, which claims 150,000 patients every year. Researchers noted that the CDC’s method for compiling national health statistics does not account for medical errors separately on death certificates. The study authors propose the CDC update its methodology.

“Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven't been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics," Martin Makary, professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and lead author on the study, said. "The medical coding system was designed to maximize billing for physician services, not to collect national health statistics, as it is currently being used."

Researchers were quick to note that these medical errors aren’t the exclusive domain of bad doctors, and that reporting medical errors shouldn’t necessarily lead to punishment or legal action. The study authors said many errors could be attributed to several factors, including uncoordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, and ineffective safety nets.

"Unwarranted variation is endemic in healthcare," Makary added. "Developing consensus protocols that streamline the delivery of medicine and reduce variability can improve quality and lower costs in healthcare. More research on preventing medical errors from occurring is needed to address the problem."

In April, the ECRI Institute, an organization that specializes in work involving patient safety, issued its “Top 10 Patient Safety Concerns for Healthcare Organizations,” a document intended to help providers identify areas of concern and craft solutions. For more on this, be sure to read the "Accreditation Update" supplement to the June issue of ED Management.

For a variety of information about hospital patient and employee health and safety, be sure to check out other AHC Media offerings such as Hospital Employee Health, Healthcare Risk Management, Hospital Infection Control & Prevention, and Hospital Peer Review. Additionally, AHC offers an on-demand webinar called, "Uncovering Patient Safety and the 'Just Culture' Theory," which reviews a number of patient safety requirements. Click here to learn more.