Hopkins Researchers Discover Third Leading Cause of Death in U.S.

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It’s only rivaled by heart disease and cancer.

Johns Hopkins researchers looked at eight years’ worth of data to determine that, on average, 251,454 people die due to medical error in the U.S. each year. That makes it the third leading cause of death in the country. (Heart disease caused 611,105 deaths in 2013; cancer caused 584,881.)

It’s shocking to think that medical error could claim so many lives in a first-world country. But it’s even more shocking to find out that the third leading cause of death has no code under the International Classification of Disease and therefore goes unreported on death certificates.

Martin Makary, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, explained the practical result of such an oversight. “Top-ranked causes of death as reported by the CDC inform our country’s research funding and public health priorities,” Makary said in a statement. “Right now, cancer and heart disease get a ton of attention, but since medical errors don’t appear on the list, the problem doesn’t get the funding and attention it deserves.”

Makary and study co-author Michael Daniel are calling for a new system for classifying deaths on death certificates to track the problem.

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