A recent study in the The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal)suggests that medical mistakes could be the third leading cause of deaths in the United States. (http://www.bmj.com/content/353/bmj.i2139)
Major news outlets have picked up this story and interviewed various medical professionals:
Cause of death is often recorded on death certificates using the ICD (International Classification of Diseases) code set. Version 10 of the ICD code set was implemented in the US in October of 2015.
Some have suggested that there are no codes that describe medical mistakes or "misadventures." Although the codes may not be as specific as some researchers would prefer, there is a section of the ICD-10-CM code set that covers medical mistakes and errors.
- Y62-Y69 Misadventures to patients during surgical and medical care
- Y70-Y82 Medical devices associated with adverse incidents in diagnostic and therapeutic use
- Y83-Y84 Surgical and other medical procedures as the cause of abnormal reaction of the patient, or of later complication, without mention of misadventure at the time of the procedure
Ideally, for statistical and research purposes, the cause of death should include any medical mistakes. Also it would help those researching public health issues to know not only the final or primary cause of death, but any complications leading up to the death - whether medical issues or mistakes.
However while the codes to report mistakes do exist, there remains the question of whether physicians will want to report them on death certificates which are usually considered public records. Will that open physicians and hospitals to more lawsuits?
Discussions and debates will continue as we seek a balance between public health reporting, patient privacy, and holding health care professionals accountable for mistakes.