Are Medical Mistakes the Leading Cause of Death in the US?

In 2016, Makary and his research team published a report showing an estimated 250,000 Americans die from medical mistakes each year4 — about 1 in 10 patients — which (at that time) made it the third leading cause of death, right after cancer and heart disease.

According to Makary, that number may be higher, because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not collect vital statistics on medical errors. A death cannot be recorded as a medical error as there’s no code for it.

Another widely-cited study5 published in 2013 had estimated the annual death toll for medical mistakes in the U.S. at 400,000 a year,6 Makary says. But whatever the true number, and whether it’s the third cause of death or the ninth, medical mistakes are clearly a serious and too-frequent problem.

At the time, Makary had just published a surgery checklist for Johns Hopkins, and the WHO invited him to present it to the newly formed committee on patient safety. This checklist eventually became known as the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist.8 To this day, it hangs on operating room walls across the world.

Later investigations have revealed this pre-op checklist does in fact reduce adverse event rates and save lives. If a loved one is in the hospital, print it out, bring it with you and confirm that each of the 19 items has been done.

Are Medical Mistakes the Leading Cause of Death in the US?