The High Cost of Medical Errors

Medical errors made by doctors and hospitals will result in 200,000 deaths in the United States this year, according to a report compiled by Hearst newspapers. These deaths will occur due to preventable errors such as illegible handwriting, poor communication between healthcare professionals, misdiagnoses, wrong-side surgeries, and failures to diagnose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that 99,000 patients die each year due to preventable infections including MRSA. While the CDC is supposed to track such deaths, the agency admits that most medical errors go unreported. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that if these medical errors were reported, medical errors would be the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States.
These medical mistakes have caught the attention of journalists across the country who’ve worked together to investigate issues of medical errors, medical malpractice, medical misdiagnoses, and the overall breakdown in the healthcare system. The team of journalists, in collaboration with graduate journalism students from Columbia University, have published a report entitled, “Dead by Mistake”. The report is available online at
Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of Hearst Newspapers and the San Francisco Chronicle, explained that the project arose from an urgent need for greater public awareness as well as better healthcare industry accountability.
“The idea for the story first came in an informal discussion among reporters and editors from several papers; we were looking at topics to investigate that would have a significant impact on people’s lives. We decided that focusing on the plague of fatal but preventable hospital errors would be a public service. Our team, which during the course of the project involved over 35 people – and an entire class of graduate journalism students at Columbia University, read thousands of pages of documents, disciplinary files, lawsuits, governmental, medical and other public and private reports. Dates of birth, death certificates, “adverse events” statistics and whispered hints of information were reported out, studied, reviewed and translated into verifiable fact. We conducted several hundred interviews across the country, concentrating on a half dozen states. Journalists 3,000 miles apart coordinated their work and their findings. Part of the problem in seeking some solution to the unrelenting number of preventable deaths each year was that there was no comprehensive reporting of medical errors around the country. We set out to gather information not available and/or accessible to the public, or even to health care professionals.”

Holly Haines