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The Fatal Cost of Medical Errors

"A conservative 

210,000 deaths per year are associated with preventable harm in hospitals, with the true number estimated at over 400,000."

Journal Of Patient Safety

As compared to the rest of the world, Americans by far suffer the greatest number of medical errors (also known as "iatrogenics").

A statistical study of hospital deaths in the US conducted at the University of Toronto revealed that pharmaceutical drugs kill more people every year than are killed in traffic accidents.

Another study concluded that a staggering 210,000 deaths per year were associated with preventable harm in hospitals.  Given limitations in the search capability and the incompleteness of medical records, the true number of premature deaths associated with preventable harm to patients was estimated at more than 400,000 per year.(1)  Some estimate that the number of deaths due to medical error is the equivalent of what would occur if a jumbo jet crashed every day, and 3 times the number killed each year in US traffic accidents.

The quality of health care is so poor in the US, that in a recent comparison of 13 countries, it ranked 12th - second from the bottom - behind Japan, Sweden, Canada, France, Australia, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, and Belgium.(2)

Common Medical Errors

medical errorsCommon medical errors in the US include:

  • Receiving the wrong medication or dosage
  • Being given incorrect test results
  • Suffering mistakes in treatment plans
  • Infections as a result of hospital stays
  • Unnecessary treatments or surgeries
  • Missed diagnosis due to rushed procedures
  • Operating on wrong body parts (US surgeons operate on the wrong body part as often as 40 times/week)(3)

Medical care is killing us at alarming rates, and adverse effects from prescription drugs tops the list.  US patients with chronic conditions are the most likely to say they were given the wrong drug.

  • Lucian Leape, a Harvard School of Public Health professor who conducted the most comprehensive study of medical errors in the US, estimated that 1 million patients nationwide are injured by errors during hospital treatments each year, and that 120,000 die as a result.  Leape and his colleagues examined patient records at hospitals throughout the state of New York.  Their 1991 report found that 1 in 200 patients admitted to a hospital died as a result of a hospital error.  "It's by far the #1 problem" in health care."

    These figures are conservative.  Many medical errors are not reported, and Leap believes these numbers represent only 5-10% of the number of actual medical mistakes made at a typical hospital.

"Adverse drug reactions are the 4th leading cause of death in the US, after heart disease, cancer, and stroke."


  • During a 12-month study, more than 2 million Americans hospitalized suffered serious adverse drug reactions (ADR) throughout the study.  Of these, over 100,000 died as a result.  Study researchers found that over 75% of these adverse reactions were dose-dependent, which suggests they were due to the toxicity of the drugs and not an allergic reaction.  The researchers concluded that ADRs are now the fourth leading cause of death in the US after heart disease, cancer, and stroke.(4) & (5)
"It's really a joke to worry about the occasional plane that goes down when we have thousands of people who are killed in hospitals every year for preventable reasons" said Robert Brook, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "The bottom line is we have a system that is terribly out of control."

Overtesting, Overtreating, Overmedicating

Instead of encouraging patients to follow natural solutions such as dietary changes, stress reduction, and more exercise, the medical system encourages unnecessary procedures, surgeries, and medications.  An estimated 30% of all medical procedures, medications, and tests may be completely unnecessary, even more significant when considering that the cost of medical care runs into the tens of billions each year.(3)

The toxic US healthcare system...

The American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation reported on the most overused tests and treatments that provide limited or zero benefit to the patient (or caused more harm than good).  The 2012 report warned doctors against using 45 tests, procedures, and treatments.  The 2013 report added another 90 tests and treatments to the list.

Many prescribed medications lead to secondary health problems and side effects that often result in even more medications.  

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