Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiles a list of the most common causes of death among Americans. This list is significant—it helps raise public awareness about particular health risks and it steers national research priorities. It is also inaccurate.
The CDC bases its rankings on data derived from death certificates, which assign an International Classification of Disease code to each cause of death. However, to this day there is no ICD code that corresponds to medical errors.
This omission is no accident. Preventable medical errors have been known by the healthcare industry to be a leading cause of death since at least 1999, when the Institute of Medicine referred to the 98,000 annual deaths they estimated were due to errors as an “epidemic.”
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