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Study finds medical errors are third leading cause of death in the US

As patients, we rely on medical professionals to treat us safely and effectively. As friends, relatives and parents, we also must trust them to take care of the people we love. However, a recent study by Johns Hopkins researchers show that seeking medical treatment can often be deadly.

According to the study, 251,454 people died because of medical errors in 2013. That makes them the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. So why are we just learning the full scope of medical errors now? And how you can take steps to protect your loved ones?

The challenge of identifying medical errors

The study's authors believe that deaths by medical errors have been drastically underreported because these mistakes are not listed on death certificates. Death certificates and CDC rankings rely on "disease codes" to indicate cause of death, and no code exists yet for medical errors.

In fact, the researchers believe their study still underestimates the number of medical error fatalities. They relied on data about inpatient deaths because of mistakes that were documented, meaning many fatal errors may have gone uncounted.

How can I protect myself and my family?

In light of this study, it may seem dangerous to seek medical attention ever again. However, there are several ways to minimize the risk to you and your loved ones:

  • Maintain an accurate medical history. Consider keeping your own copy that you can give to a doctor during your first visit. Be thorough and forthcoming - keeping secrets from your doctor can contribute to mistakes.
  • Take an active role in your care. Ask questions when something is unclear so you know how to take care of yourself when your doctor is not there.
  • Take all medications as directed by your doctor and pharmacist. Check with your health care provider to find out how much to take, when to take it, and if there are any foods you should avoid while taking it.
  • Don't hesitate to get a second opinion when you have reservations about a doctor's choice of treatment.

Of course, even the most diligent patient can be hurt by a doctor's negligence. It is critical that you speak with a medical malpractice attorney if you believe a medical mistake has caused serious injury to you or a loved one.

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