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Director of Disease Control and Prevention Pens Open Letter Urging Medical Errors as an Option on a Death Certificate

By Jack H. FarnbauchJune 28, 2017

As discussed in earlier Sweeney Law Firm blog posts, medical errors have risen to the number 3 cause of death in America, behind heart disease and cancer. Currently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) uses a death collection system that only tallies causes of death occurring from diseases, morbid conditions, and injuries. The information on death certificates filled out by physicians, funeral directors, medical examiners, and coroners form the basis of an annually updated list of the most common causes of death. These are referenced by a billing code on the death certificate. However, there is no code that corresponds with a medical error as the cause of death. Therefore, a patient that dies as a direct result of a medical error is not counted in the U.S. national health statistics. 

Dr. Martin Makary, professor at Johns Hopkins, has written an open letter to Dr. Thomas Frieden, the Director for the CDC, urging the CDC to officially recognize medical errors as a cause of death by including it in their official coding system. In doing this, Dr. Makary hopes to bring more awareness to the issue of medical errors and the vast number of deaths related to medical errors. Dr. Makary remarked that the CDC’s annual list of most common causes of death in the U.S. should strive for accuracy because it influences our country’s national funding campaigns.

Dr. Makery argues that “increasing the transparency of the magnitude of the problem can lead to the design of safer systems mitigating their frequency, visibility, and consequences in both the U.S. and internationally. Reducing costly medical errors is critical towards the important goal of creating a safer, more reliable health care system. Measuring and understanding the problem is the first step.”

You can read Dr. Makery’s letter here.