The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes an annual review of the 10 leading causes of death in America. The most recent list, issued in 2018, shows the highest cause of death is heart disease. Not surprisingly,  cancer deaths take second place.

Third place, however, shows “Accidents (unintentional injuries)” when, in reality, the third leading cause of death in America is medical malpractice.

Medical malpractice and the public’s right to know

In the world of medicine, a “never event” is a medical malpractice error that should never occur. While all surgery carries risk, these events are preventable errors. They cause horrific consequences or even prove fatal to patients. Here are a few examples of never events:

  • Amputating the wrong limb
  • Administering the wrong drug or wrong dose of a prescribed medication
  • Exposing a patient to lethally high doses of radiation
  • Closing off the healthy end of an essential internal organ instead of the diseased end

Many hospitals are now actively involved in reducing never events. Surgery teams know that operations are a minefield of potential risks. They take great care to verify the type of procedure and the proper surgery site before the surgery, yet certain doctors and hospitals have an unusually high rate of bad outcomes.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine studied fatalities due to lapses in medical care. They concluded that more than 250,000 people die in America each year due to medical errors. This number alone should push medical malpractice into third place at the CDC, but the organization chooses not to include medical errors on its annual list.

High never event risks for a New York doctor’s pediatric patients  

Colleagues and medical students reported the Director of Trauma practicing in the Bronx at the only pediatric children’s stand-alone hospital in New York state. She made persistent diagnostic errors and dangerously botched operations. Fellow doctors and students wrote letters to the hospital board stating they refused to work with her. Eventually, the hospital placed her on a two-year probation. Most states do not have to report an injury from malpractice to patient families, so her record was unknown to parents.

One of the problems for potential surgery patients is finding information about their doctor’s performance record. Parents would probably not wish to allow a surgeon with numerous, severe diagnostic and surgical errors to operate on their child. The information for New York doctors is difficult to find, but available online to those who know where to search for a board action taken against a medical professional.