In 2013, John James released a report called A New Evidence Based Estimate of Patient Harms. James estimated that between 210,000 and 440,000 Americans die as a result of harm done to them during hospitalization.
In 2016, researchers from Johns Hopkins found that roughly 250,000 Americans die from medical mistakes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 600,000 Americans die every year from heart disease and cancer. Chronic lower respiratory problems kill about 150,000 Americans every year and are currently listed as the third leading cause of death.
Both James and the researchers from Johns Hopkins used data from four studies of medical death rates done between 2000 and 2008. James’s report is more accurate because he compared the death rates with the amount of hospitalizations in 2007, one of the years during which the data was gathered. The researchers from Johns Hopkins used data on hospitalizations from 2013.
A report published in the British Medical Journal, the same publication that published the Johns Hopkins report, was highly critical. It concluded that medical mistakes are the direct cause of death in about 25,000 deaths a year.
The criticism of the Johns Hopkins report is flawed because it equates preventible death with actual death. This means that if a terminal cancer patient is given too much chemo and dies three weeks early, their death wasn’t preventible. So. those who criticized the Johns Hopkins report do not consider the overdose as a contributing factor to the ultimate death.
This piece from Dan Walter, a patient safety advocate, compares the James and Johns Hopkins reports. It also demonstrates the flaws in the criticisms.
This article from a blog maintained by Harvard supports James’s findings and agrees with his conclusion that many of those killed by medical error die after leaving the hospital.