Medical Malpractice in the News, Part I

by George Hodan, via


Over the next several blogs, we will be looking at the recent media coverage concerning the rising number of medical malpractice claims. A recent paper by Martin Makary and Michael Daniel in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) argued that the annual incidence of preventable fatal medical error is significantly higher than popularly believed, making it the third leading cause of non-violent death in the US. The study’s authors gave this estimate in the context of a call for better data collection, which they argue would enable the medical community to apply its scientific methods to identify ways these errors can be avoided or their effects mitigated.

Given the large number of patient admissions each year (35 million in the US in 2013), even a seemingly low rate of preventable lethal event incidence is cause for concern. However, there is reason to be skeptical that the rate is where Makary and Daniel estimate it to be.

The increasing rate of medical malpractice highlights the need for accountability—whether through lawsuits, board actions, or other means. Next week, we will address some of the difficulties the scientific community faces in investigating and quantifying medical malpractice.