Did you know that 75% of all deaths in this country are attributed to ten different conditions? Furthermore, the top three causes account for at least 50% of all deaths each year. Most people are familiar with the two leading causes of death which are heart disease and cancer. However, very few know the third leading cause of death behind those two. It isn’t discussed nearly as often as heart disease or cancer yet claims between 251,000 and 440,000 lives each year.
For comparison, heart disease claimed 633,842 lives and cancer claimed 595,930 American lives in 2016. These statistics are from the CDC who only attribute cause of deaths to disease or illnesses. A recent study by John Hopkins found an additional 250,000 Americans died due to medical error which is more than any of the other top ten killing diseases and more than accidents! Our own healthcare system is our nation’s third leading cause of death.
Deaths due to medical errors are defined as one that is caused by inadequately skilled staff, error in judgement or care, a system defect or a preventable adverse effect. This includes computer breakdowns, mix-ups with the doses or types of medications administered to patients and surgical complications that go undiagnosed.
There is a myriad of reasons that this topic goes uncovered. Two of the leading reasons is that our healthcare system is a profit-driven system and no one likes to admit mistakes. Keeping this news out of the spotlight will prevent people from avoiding the healthcare system and therefore keep profitability high. There is also fear of losing public trust and creating hesitancy in seeking the necessary medical care when the time comes.
Keeping this news hidden, however, also prevents funding and research from being done and limits the amount of medical error that occurs. The only way to get the necessary funding and research is to show that there is a need for it. As long as no one thinks medical error is a problem no one will think a solution is necessary. Meanwhile, the problem only stays the same or gets worse.
So how do we keep from falling victim to the nation’s third leading cause of death? One of the most obvious ways is by staying as far away from the so-called healthcare system by taking health in to your own hands as much as possible. This includes exercising, eating and drinking healthy foods and liquids, and all the things necessary that actually promote health. Occasionally, going to the doctor may be necessary so what can you do to make sure things go without a hiccup?
According to Dr. John James, a patient-safety advocate and author of A Sea of Broken Hearts: Patient Rights in a Dangerous, Profit-Driven Health Care System, patients need to take charge of their own health. He provides four practical ways to do so:
Ask questions – you should be comfortable following any doctor’s recommendations. The only way to feel comfortable is by asking as many questions until you completely understand the ins and outs of a diagnosis, prognosis, or treatment.
Seek second opinions – don’t feel rude by asking for another provider to look everything over and give their opinion on your options.
Bring an advocate – it never hurts to have a second pair of eyes and ears on all the information you’re given at any doctor’s appointment. Your advocate may remember information you forgot.
Download an app – technology is great, and we should use it to our advantage whenever possible. It is often hard to remember all our medications, surgeries, procedures, hospitalizations, accidents, and so on. Having this information on an app will allow you to accurately provide all the information any doctor would need, work as a team, and prevent any medical errors.