You know the dangers of car accidents, gun violence and binge drinking. You know the risk you face from cancer and heart disease. You read the statistics. You watch the news. It's clear to you how people tend to pass away in the United States and why the average life expectancy is not higher.
But you consider the hospital a safe zone. Medical science is nothing short of a modern miracle. Injuries and diseases that meant death a century ago now get cured regularly. The hospital is a safe place with educated, trustworthy medical professionals.
The real risk
Unfortunately, the reality is not quite as optimistic as that picture makes it seem. Did you know that research shows that medical mistakes qualify as the No. 3 leading cause of death for Americans? About 10 percent of nationwide deaths, year in and year out, can get traced back to avoidable errors.
According to the study that delivered these groundbreaking statistics, about 250,000 people pass away annually due to these avoidable errors. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States, while cancer is No. 2. Medical errors come in third.
It may be worse
Other reports actually found the true death toll could be higher. For instance, one previous report simply claimed that mistakes took the lives of 1 percent of all people admitted to U.S. hospitals over the course of a year.
1 percent may not sound like much, but over 35 million people wind up in these hospitals annually. Some experts believe that around 400,201 annual deaths could link back to medical mistakes.
For comparison, that is roughly the same as the population of Oakland, California, and just under that of Miami, Florida.
Are records even accurate?
One way to obtain more comprehensive statistics, something officials would like to do, is to look at death certificates. Quite simply, when someone dies in a hospital, the certificate should shed light on why the death occurred.
However, some people feel skeptical -- that is perhaps putting it lightly -- about the record-keeping process. One expert said that he worried that doctors would become very conscious of the fact that these certificates linked back to medical mistakes. He did not think it was plausible that doctors would faithfully record what happened without worrying about ramifications, like getting sued for medical malpractice.
If he is right, this suggests that continuing these studies could become difficult. Researchers may need new tactics to determine when mistakes actually occur.
Losing a loved one
It's incredibly hard for families who lose loved ones in the hospital. This is especially true if, like you, they thought of hospitals as safe zones. When someone passes away, grieving family members must know what options they have.