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Tracking deaths due to hospital error

While keeping track of how many people die due to hospital or doctor errors in New Mexico and around the country is important, no one is quite sure what the correct number is. A 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine suggested that 98,000 people each year died due to errors that occurred in a hospital setting. Although most doctors accept this number, further studies indicate that the number may actually be higher.

A study conducted by the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services concluded that approximately 180,000 Medicare patients die each year from poor care rendered by hospitals. This study was conducted in 2010, and it may have been too conservative in the figures that it presented. A more recent study from the group Patient Safety America claims that as many as 440,000 people die each year due to hospital errors.

If that number is correct, it would mean that errors that occur in a hospital setting are the third-leading cause of death in America. It would trail only cancer and heart disease. While no one has been able to find fault with the more recent figures, a leading hospital professional organization still believes that the findings from 1999 are most likely correct. However, there is no conclusive proof that any study has come to the right answer.

A hospital that makes an error that leads to a patient's death, may have committed medical malpractice. An attorney may be able to help the victim's family obtain compensation to pay for the hospital's mistakes. For instance, it may be possible to obtain damages for lost wages and future earnings due to wrongful death. An attorney may represent a family outside of court during settlement talks or at trial if no agreement can be reached.

Source: ProPublica, "How Many Die From Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals?", Marshall Allen, Sept. 19, 2013

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