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This Just Became the Third-Leading Cause of Death in the United States

The first leading cause of death is heart disease, followed by cancer in the no. 2 spot.

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Medical errors.

According to a new study from the BMJ, originally named the British Medical Journal, medical errors — to include incorrect medications, wrong diagnoses and medical mishaps — has unseated respiratory disease as the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

Medical errors lead to more than 250,000 deaths every year, according to the study. But exact numbers are not currently available — a reality the BMJ said needs to change.

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"There’s vast underrecognition, underpreparation, and underfunding of the problem of medical care gone awry, even though it has a significant impact on public health," Dr. Martin Makary, health policy and management professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.

The research revealed that 9.5 percent of all deaths within the U.S. occur in hospitals and are actually preventable. But, according to Dr. John Torres, the surgeons are not always to blame.

"I think one of the big things they're emphasizing is not to put it on a bad doctor plate and say bad doctors are causing all these medical errors," Torres told KUSA-TV.

"There's no such thing as a perfect surgery, that nothing's going to go wrong," he continued. "There's no such thing as any procedure that doesn't have side effects with it. And that's why I always encourage patients, before you go in, know what's supposed to happen, what could happen, and understand what you need to do to follow up with that because we're a team, the doctor and the patients are a team, need to work together."

As a result of the study, the BMJ is calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to require more information on death certificates. As it stands, there is no formal, streamlined procedure for collecting accurate numbers behind medical errors.

The BMJ's research builds upon a previous study that discovered more than 210,000 deaths per year are a result of medical errors. After adjusting for 2013 hospital admission rates, Makary and his team determined the actual number is much closer to 251,454 deaths per year, far surpassing the CDC's currently-listed third-leading cause of death, respiratory disease, which kills nearly 150,000 people per year.

The first-leading cause of death is heart disease, followed by cancer in the no. 2 spot.

Currently, deaths are categorized based on health insurance billing codes, which sometimes fail to record the legitimate cause of death. BMJ's study includes the horrific story of a woman who went into surgery — potentially unnecessarily — and died because a needle grazed her liver.

On the insurance records, the woman's death was noted as the result of "cardiovascular" complications, misnaming the actual cause of death.

"People don’t just die of billing codes," Makary said.

In order to fix the problem, Makary proposed creating a culture in hospitals that is more open, where patients and medical professionals feel free to talk about and discuss mistakes — a step many hospitals are already implementing.

(H/T: STAT News)

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