Only a few days ago, I wrote that we shouldn't be surprised about the prevalence of medical error. After all, typical rates of error in professional service industries are 1 defect per every 1000 opportunities. (More info here.) In high-stakes fields like aviation and healthcare, well, that's too high! Here, we see pushback against the specifics of a recent article on our US rate of deaths from medical error. Clearly, rate of death from medical error is a "smaller is better" quality endpoint. So, that said, whether that preventable issue is number 3 or number 12 on the list, I ask you: "do the specifics of where it is on the list matter?" How small a number of deaths due to medical errors, or how low on the list for the rank as cause of death in the US, is acceptable to us as providers and patients? Yes, methodological issues and academic integrity are key; yet, for most of us, isn't a headline that sensitizes us to the importance of preventing medical error worth the read?
In a searing response to the analysis, also published in the BMJ, researchers wrote that the results came from a flawed, informal methodology and misconstrued how many people died annually from medical error. “As concerned citizens, we would rather not have medical care characterized as more dangerous than firearms or motor vehicles,” wrote Kaveh G Shojania, a scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute, and Mary Dixon-Woods, a Rand professor of health services researcher. Their response said that the analysis’s methodology was “precarious” because it extrapolated on death rate evidence from differing studies and compared that information with the top-ranking causes of US deaths.