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If you or someone you love suffers a medical error, the pain and additional treatment you need can be frustrating. Serious errors can lead to deaths that could have been prevented, leaving you to fight a malpractice lawsuit.

The current study published in the Journal of Patient Safety reports that medical mistakes may lead to between 210,000 and 440,000 patient deaths each year. These mistakes either directly cause or significantly impact the patient’s health before death.

Isn’t that a higher number of deaths than listed in reports in the past?

Previously, the estimate was around 98,000 deaths, and the American Hospital Association believes that this number is more accurate. In truth, no one knows for sure, because these incidents aren’t always reported. Medical records can have inaccuracies, and some providers won’t report mistakes because of higher insurance premiums or the risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit.

How was the higher number of deaths calculated?

Patient safety is a serious concern, and it’s hard to address the problems without knowing exactly what’s going wrong or how many people are affected. Using a screening method named the Global Trigger Tool, a toxicologist at NASA looked at four recent studies to determine when preventable incidents impacted patients. The tool looked for things like injuries, errors or infections. If a record was flagged, a medical doctor would then review the findings and state the extent of the harm the mistake would have caused.

By extrapolating, the toxicologist came up with the higher number of patient deaths each year. That would account for around one-sixth of all the deaths that take place in the United States each year.