According to a Johns Hopkins study by Martin A. Makary and Michael Daniel, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the US, with approximately 251,000 deaths annually due to this cause. Here’s the reference:
Makary, M. A. and M. Daniel (2016). “Medical error-the third leading cause of death in the US.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 353: i2139.
Deaths by medical error thus far exceed death by gun (34,000), by motor vehicles (34,000) – and therefore to a great extent by alcohol, by suicide (41,000), and by Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease COPD (149,000), and are second only to death by heart disease (611,000) and to cancer (585,000). It is also likely that medical error disproportionately harms the poor.
We should therefore have a walk / run for the cure, ribbons, etc. to reduce medical error!
If our government were aligned to truly better the human condition, we would systematically address medical error, and diseases like sickle cell, which itself confers a likely death sentence on 100,000 US citizens and on 5 million Nigerians! Yet activists by and large ignore sickle cell disease, perhaps because gun violence draws more media and political attention. Anti-gun activism reinforces media viewing and drives political action. But it potentially saves far fewer lives than an effective campaign against medical error, or against smoking.
US Hispanics, who face similar poverty among their ranks, tend to outlive African Americans by six years – probably due to lower smoking rates among Hispanics, according to a 2013 report from the Population Reference Bureau. Anti-smoking activists are still waiting for President Obama, a former(?) smoker, to speak out loudly on this critical public health issue.
Politics, not public health concerns, therefore drives our public health priorities. If our priority was human life, the medical error and other larger public health challenges would be addressed.
Addressing societal ineffectiveness and inefficiency is therefore indeed a social justice issue. This is one point almost universally missed by political and by religious leaders especially. Every time Pope Francis speaks out against modern society’s drive for efficiency, I cringe, thinking of the annual 251,000 US deaths due to medical error, and of the untold number of such unnecessary deaths worldwide.
Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care, 2012, Bloombury Press, by Marty Makary MD, ISBN 978-1-60819-838-2, has some good suggestions on reducing medical error.
© Copyright 2016, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.