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tgb comments on Your Strength as a Rationalist - Less Wrong

69 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 August 2007 12:21AM

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Comment author: tgb 04 April 2013 02:53:04AM *  2 points [-]

Citation needed? I know I'm coming to this rather late, but a quick check of the 2010 CDC report on deaths in the US gives "Complications of medical and surgical care" as causing 2,490 deaths whereas transport accidents causing 37,961 deaths (35,332 of which were classified a 'motor vehicle deaths'). The only other thing I can see that might be medical errors put under a different heading is "Accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances" at 33,041 which combines to still fewer deaths than transport accidents even without removing those poisonings which are not medical errors. (This poisoning category appears to have a lot of recreational drug overdoses judging by the way it sharply increases in the 15-24 age group then drops off after 54 whereas time-spent-in-hospital is presumably increasing with age.)

On the other hand, a 2012 New York Times Op-Ed claims 98,000 deaths from medical errors a year. This number is so much larger than what the CDC reports that I must be misreading something. That would be about 1 in 20 people who die in the US die due to medical error. Original source from 1999). Actually checking that source, 98,000 deaths/year is the upper bound number given (lower bound of 44,000 deaths/year). The report also recommends a 50% reduction in these deaths within 5 years (so by 2004) - and Wikipedia mentions a 2006 study claiming that they successfully preventing 120,000 deaths in an 18 month time period but I can't find this study. A 2001 followup here appears to focus on suggestions for improvements rather than on giving new data to our question. 3 minutes on Google Scholar didn't turn up any recent estimates. This entire sub-field appears to rely very heavily upon that one source - at least in the US.

Also of interest is "Actual Causes of Death in the US" which classifies deaths by 'mistake made' (so to speak) - the top killer being tobacco use, then poor diet/low exercise, alcohol, microbial agents, toxic agents, car accidents, firearms, sexual behaviors, and illicit drug use. Medical errors didn't show high up on this list, despite it being the only source in the Wikipedia article on the original article.

Edit: also some places that cite the 1999 study accuse the CDC of not reporting these deaths as their own category. This appears to have changed given the category I reported above. The fact that there has been substantial uproar about medical error since the 1999 article and a corresponding increase in funding for studying it makes me unsurprised that the CDC would start reporting.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 04 April 2013 03:49:45AM 2 points [-]

If a doctor makes a mistake treating a patient from a vehicle accident, what heading does it get reported under?

(I ask the question in earnest, to anybody who might know the answer - because depending on what the answer is, it could explain the discrepancy.)