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Report: Hospital error third leading cause of death in U.S.

Back in 1984, medical data indicated that in the United States preventable hospital mistakes caused about 98,000 deaths annually. That number would seem shocking enough, but a more recent report published by the Journal of Patient Safety is even more disturbing. The report estimates that about 440,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. because of hospital errors.

To put that number in perspective, consider that hospital error now ranks third among causes of death in the U.S. That means that preventable hospital mistakes lead to one-sixth of all deaths nationwide, and these statistics don't even include the number of people who suffer non-fatal injuries because of medical errors.

Pennsylvania residents, if they can, should be aware of their local hospitals' safety records. Such information is available on a number of websites, including Hospital Compare, which offers data gathered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

There are also best hospital rankings and sites geared toward helping patients choose an appropriate hospital.

For example, you might want to look into your local hospital's record regarding surgical site infections. Pennsylvania is one state that actually collects that information and posts it on the state's Department of Health website.

It is also important to remember that hospitals are very willing to publish news of their own positive achievements while quietly overlooking shortfalls, so don't necessarily fall for the enthusiasm with which certain medical facilities espouse the quality of their care.

Hospital errors leave people throughout the country with disabling and fatal injuries, and those people or their families deserve justice. To learn more about what to do after a medical injury, please visit our medical malpractice site.

Source: The New York Times, "To Make Hospitals Less Deadly, a Dose of Data," Tina Rosenberg, Dec. 4, 2013

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