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Medical mistakes a leading cause of death in the U.S.

Stories of surgeons leaving surgical tools in patients or nurses confusing medications between patients command headlines. Yet these stories remain easy to dismiss. When you're a patient, you want to assume you're in good hands. Usually, you are. Nevertheless, even the best doctor or nurse can make mistakes. A recent study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine indicate that the prevalence of such mistakes can be eerily high. In fact, "medical errors" in health care settings account for the estimated loss of 151,000 lives every year, surpassing the number of deaths from stroke, Alzheimer's, accidents and respiratory disease. While the numbers are staggering, few people know about them. The reasons may surprise you. 

Only falling behind heart disease and cancer for the number of deaths caused annually, the term "medical errors" can mean a lot of different things. From communication errors that result in medication mismanagement to medical staff not checking patient identification, mistakes are rampant. Part of the reason we don't hear about such lapses of care is because it isn't accurately accounted for on death certificates. Martin Makary, a John Hopkins surgeon and one of the study's authors, is pushing for changes to be made to death certificates to allow better accounting for medical mistakes. Additionally, he urged the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list of common causes of death.

Another reason that numbers are difficult to determine is that the CDC doesn't mandate the reporting of errors in the data it collects through billing codes. Doctors are under no obligation to report situations when an error causes what may have been a preventable death. So while this study underscores the surprising number of deaths and injuries that occur from medical mistakes, it cannot provide fast and firm numbers.

While any injury or death caused by a medical error is tragic, such incidents are especially troubling when the causes are preventable. This is why it is important for victims, or their family members, to find answers and explore their legal options. Taking legal action may seem daunting, but it can open up avenues of financial relief. Medical malpractice lawsuits also spur improvements in the medical field, decreasing the possibility of such mistakes hurting others in the future.

You don't have to go it alone. An experienced medical negligence attorney can help you understand your rights and explore the options that are available to you. 

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