High Reliability Organization

Preventable Medical Errors - A Leading Killer in the U.S.

Recent studies show that preventable medical errors may now be the third leading cause of death in the U.S, up exceedingly from 98,000 per year.

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Medical Errors are Now the 3rd Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.

Recent studies show that medical errors may now be the third leading cause of death in the U.S., up from what we previously thought was 98,000 preventable deaths a year. This startling information is leaving healthcare professionals even more on edge as this represents more than 30 preventable deaths per hour.

The Facts as We Know Them

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a report (To Err is Human) that stated between 44,000 and 98,000 die in hospitals each year from preventable deaths caused by medical errors. It is widely accepted by employees and leaders in the healthcare industry as a realistic statistic.

Recent studies suggest a much higher rate. According to the results, between 210,000 and 440,000 patients in hospitals every year experience preventable harm that contributes to their death.

To put this in perspective, in 2010, the CDC reported that heart disease contributed nearly 600,000 deaths, with cancer closely behind at almost 575,000 deaths a year.


This report also indicated that the death rates for heart disease and cancer are experiencing a long-term decreasing trend. While there is no definitive data on preventable deaths, there is agreement it is a “huge” number and there has been no improvement over the past decade.

Hospital with the Emergency Entrance sign

It’s Complex

FactErrors typically lie in diagnosis, treatment or prevention in hospital care. 

There is no doubt the healthcare system is complex. Hospitals see a large number of patients each day for a wide variety conditions. And just like any other industry, people make mistakes.

What is surprising, though, is that with all this focus on medical errors, we’ve seen no reduction in the related death rate.

What Does This Mean for Healthcare?

Bluntly, this means that up to almost half a million people each year seek treatment at a hospital and die because of preventable medical errors. 

Hospital leadership has the responsibility to ensure that they are taking proactive measures to prevent avoidable medical errors and deaths in hospitals.


The Time is Now

Now is the time to look at this alarming number and take the already known steps to significantly reduce the numbers in these results. Adopting a high reliability strategy is one critical component in delivering improved patient safety and quality care.

30 preventable deaths per hour.

Now is the time to take action. It’s time to make hospitals safer.

- Don Death, CEO


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