Monday, September 30, 2013

Why Has CDC Omitted Medical Error From Leading Causes Of Death?

First, this is a fantastic interactive tool from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). It gives a clean, visual representation of the change in burden of disease over the last 20 years. Here's a snapshot of the top 20 causes of death in the US (all ages, both genders):

Two comments.

1st Comment - Where is "Medical Error" as a cause of death? A new study in the Journal of Patient Safety says that between 210,000 and 440,000* patients each year who go to the hospital suffer preventable harm that contributes to their death. Those are just people who go to the hospital. (NPR wrote about this study too: How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?. Insightful comments there.)

* Dr. Campbell writes, "An analysis of all hospitalized Medicare patients concluded that from 2000 to 2002, "over 575,000 preventable deaths occurred" nationwide.[ref. given]" So, these figures may be the tip of the iceburg.

Here are the top 4 causes of death from the CDC's list of leading causes of death:
  • Heart disease: 597,689
  • Cancer: 574,743
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 138,080
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 129,476

This study would place medical errors in the third position, higher if you could count undocumented errors. Their authors state:
"This is roughly one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the United States each year. The problem of [preventable adverse events] must emerge from behind the “Wall of Silence” and be addressed for the sake of prolonging the lives of Americans."
If we add to that another 100,000 deaths from side effects of prescription drugs, taken as directed, (not including deaths because the doctor made a mistake and prescribed the wrong drug, or the pharmacist made a mistake filling the prescription, or the patient accidentally took too much, which inflate the total still more), medical error surpasses heart disease and takes the top position. That is, "physician error, medication error, and adverse events from drugs and surgery" would be the leading cause of death in this country.

The US has the most expensive health care on the planet. Preventable errors related to that care could account for more deaths than any disease. Why isn't it listed on CDC's website and on other government reports? Dr. Campbell:
"How is it possible that this cause of death not even be listed on a government website as a leading cause of death? Such publicity would be bad for the disease business -- and if the US government cares about one thing here, it's the economic interests of the medical establishment, one of the leading donors to political candidates, parties, and political action committees."
2nd Comment - Look at that rise in Alzheimer's Disease. Alzheimer's is just one form of dementia. And dementia is just one type of mental illness (which include insomnia, depression, ADHD, etc.) Mental disorders have become the greatest health challenge of the 21st century, yet we barely discuss them. As I wrote in 2011, I wish we could get to a place where people spoke as openly about their dementia and depression as they did their heart disease and diabetes, where people saw mental illness as an opportunity to show compassion, instead of an opportunity to drug.

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