Dr. Don Berwick: Medical Error Is The Third Leading Cause Of Death In The US

Tori Bedford | WGBH News | May 5, 2016

The two most common causes of death in the United States are medical: heart disease and cancer, respectively. According to a new study, the third cause could also be medical—in a terrifying way. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, medical errors in hospitals and other medical facilities could be the third leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 250,000 lives every year. One of the study’s authors wrote, “it boils down to people dying from the care that they receive, rather than the disease for which they are seeking care.”

Dr. Don BerwickAccording to Dr. Don Berwick, this revelation is actually nothing new. Berwick co-authored a landmark paper on medical errors, published in 1999. “The news, in a way, is that this is treated as news,” Berwick said in an interview with Boston Public Radio Thursday. “This burden we bear of consequences of errors and injuries in healthcare has now been known for well over 20 years, and carefully documented… actually there’s almost nothing new in this paper, and it’s a little bit perplexing why the public is so unaware of this.”

According to Berwick, this news shouldn’t come as a shock, because of the inherent nature of human error. “What goes on is that doctors are human beings, so are nurses, and just like I mix up the names of my daughters and hit the wrong button on the radio sometimes, the same kind of human frailties exist in healthcare delivery,” he said. “The systems of care are very, very complicated.” As humans, Berwick says, we’ve found ways to work around our fumbling in certain industries, using engineering processes of work to protect people from themselves...