Most people are aware that medical errors occur during hospitalizations
and that they result in illness, injury and death; however, few know the
full extent of the problem. Doctors and healthcare consumers alike tend
to assume such mistakes are relatively rare. In a startling new book,
Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America’s Third Largest Cause
of Death, And What Can Be Done About It, the author, James B Lieber, reveals healthcare errors are alarmingly
frequent. Below, we excerpted and contextualized key themes from this
In the latter decades of the 20th century, researchers concerned with reports
of malpractice sought to ascertain the prevalence of the problem of hospital
errors. A 1978 study published in the Western Medical Journal found “a
potentially compensable event” occurred in one of every 20 admissions
to the 23 California hospitals analyzed. In the 1980s, the
Harvard Medical Practice Study published in the
New England Journal of Medicine found equally alarming results in the state of New York. Both studies
lacked the statistical extrapolation to gauge the problem nationally;
therefore, doctors didn’t view medical errors as a huge public health
crisis at the time.
Dr. Lucian Leape, one of the leaders of the Harvard study, became frustrated
with the lack of attention it generated and continued to work for reforms.
In 1997, he testified before the House of Representatives that when people
enter a hospital, they have a one in 200 chance of dying from an accident.
The year 1997 brought some progress, when a congressional committee produced
a report that summarized the studies pertaining to medical errors. This
led to reforms and the standardization of medical training. Yet despite
these improvements, subsequent research shows the problem persists. To
see a more recent study, read
CMS Reports on Prevalence of Medical Errors, which indicates how medical errors continue to be a threat to patient
safety in America.
If someone you love is in the hospital due to a person or provider’s
negligence or carelessness, our
D.C. medical malpractice attorneys can help. Call or email us now.