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I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).
Here is what's new this week in To Your Health - a consumer health oriented podcast from NLM - that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.
While recent research published in BMJ finds medical errors may be higher than previously reported in the U.S., Healthnewsreview.org notes the study's findings do not necessarily suggest clinical mistakes are a leading cause of death.
The BMJ study's two authors write (and we quote): 'the commonly cited estimate of annual deaths from medical errors in the US - a 1999 Institute of Medicine (IOM) report - is limited and outdated. The report describes an incidence of 44,000-98,000 deaths annually' (end of quote).
In a reanalysis and recalculation of previous findings, the BMJ study's authors find the number of medical errors in the U.S. may be as high as 250,000 cases annually.
BMJ's self-explanatory, article headline (Medical error — the third leading cause of death in the US) suggests medical errors may trail only cancer and heart disease as the leading causes of mortality among Americans. Healthnewsreview.org adds since BMJ is an internationally respected peer review, medical journal, it is not surprising that many U.S. news organizations followed BMJ's lead.
However, Healthnewsreview.org (a thoughtful, internet-based critic of health and medical journalism) suggests BMJ's headline writers (and some subsequent news organizations) failed to carefully convey the study's findings.
In fact, Healthnewsreview.org explains the framing of medical errors as the third leading cause of death may be misleading because some deaths may occur in very ill, elderly adults (and we quote): 'whose death was imminent regardless of what care they received' (end of quote). As a result, Healthnewsreview.org explains the tacit assumption that some medical errors are preventable (and are causes of death) is a debatable inference.
Overall, Healthnewsreview.org suggests it may be premature to suggest that cumulative medical errors are one of the largest causes of death in the U.S.
In addition, Healthnewsreview.org notes an assumption that the number of medical errors is growing in the U.S. is not sustained by the article's methods.
Indeed, the BMJ article suggests it is possible that the frequency of medical mistakes may not have increased since the initial estimates of errors were made in the 1990s.
Healthnewsreview.org explains (and we quote): 'None of this is meant to excuse or diminish the problem of medical errors. Whether the total is 50,000 or 250,000, the number is too high and arguably underappreciated,' (end of quote).
Nevertheless, Healthnewsreview.org suggests some of the news reports about the BMJ study may be superficial or misleading.
Either way, both Healthnewsreview.org and the BMJ study suggest there is a pressing need to create a standardized method to collect national statistics about medical errors, which often are defined as human and system mistakes in the process of health care delivery.
Meanwhile, a link to background information about the leading causes of death in the U.S. is provided by the National Center for Health Statistics within the 'related issues' section of MedlinePlus.gov's health statistics health topic page. The U.S. National Center for Health Statistics also provides a helpful, interactive, overview of the nation's health within the 'start here' section of MedlinePlus.gov's health statistics health topic page.
MedlinePlus.gov's health statistics health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the 'journal articles' section. You can sign up to receive updates about health statistics as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.
To find MedlinePlus.gov's health statistics health topic page, please type 'health statistics' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'health statistics (National Library of Medicine).'
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