Medical Errors Are No. 3 Cause Of U.S Deaths

Mark Graber mark.graber at IMPROVEDIAGNOSIS.ORG
Wed May 4 15:49:58 UTC 2016

This BMJ article highlights the rather shocking statistic that medical errors are the #3 cause of preventable deaths in the US today.  What fraction of these are related to diagnostic error?

The only estimate that has ever been made is the back-of-the-envelope calculation by Lucian Leape, Don Berwick and David Bates that diagnostic errors could account for 40,000 - 80,000 deaths annually in the US. (see page 2405 of the file attached).  Their estimate was based on the finding that 10-20% of autopsies reveal major discrepancies, and their estimate that roughly have of these  might have\could have changed the patient's outcome.  There are approximately 2.5M deaths per year in the US.  They must have applied some additional adjustment to arrive at their final estimate of 40,000 - 80,000 deaths/year from diagnostic error; unadjusted the figures would be much higher.  Their estimate has not been disputed by anyone to my knowledge.

40,000 - 80,000 deaths/year would make diagnostic error one of the top 10 causes of death in the US annually, ahead of HIV (7,000 deaths), breast cancer (41,000 deaths) and in the neighborhood of diabetes-related deaths (78,000).  

Clearly we need better data to support these estimates, and hopefully someday research funding that would be in proportion to the harm associated with\ diagnostic error. 


Mark L Graber MD FACP
President, SIDM
Senior Fellow, RTI International
Professor Emeritus, SUNY Stony Brook, NY
919 990-8497

On May 3, 2016, at 4:39 PM, Irene Gabashvili <irene at AURAMETRIX.COM> wrote:

The article in today's issue of BMJ: <>

already got press coverage by NPR, WashingtonPost and a dozen of other journals

Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US
BMJ 2016; 353 doi: <> (Published 03 May 2016)
Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2139
Martin A Makary, professor1 , Michael Daniel, research fellow1
1Department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA

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