At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the largest hospital in Nashville, a nurse's error in an attempt to give an anti-anxiety medication to a patient suffering headaches and vision problems prior to an MRI. The patient was accidentally killed when given vecuronium, a drug used in death row executions. In this case, the drug appears to have caused the patient, who was otherwise stable, to lose consciousness, suffer cardiac arrest and ultimately be left brain dead. The patient died one day later after being taken off of a breathing machine. The hospital failed to let the Davidson County Medical Examiner, who is supposed to investigate all unusual deaths in Nashville, know of the error leading the examiner to believe the death from bleeding and natural causes rather than a medication error.
The <wrong> drug was then given to the patient, who was then put into the scanning machine before anyone realized a medication mistake had been made. The patient was then left alone to be scanned for as long as 30 minutes, according to the investigation report, before someone realized the patient was not breathing and medical staff began CPR.
Read more: Patient Death Due to Medication Error
Third Leading Cause of Death? MEDICAL ERROR
A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine says medical errors should rank as the third leading cause of death in the United States — and highlights how shortcomings in tracking vital statistics may hinder research and keep the problem out of the public eye.
The authors, led by Johns Hopkins surgeon Dr. Martin Makary, (listen to his interview) call for changes in death certificates to better tabulate fatal lapses in care. In an open letter, they urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to immediately add medical errors to its annual list reporting the top causes of death.
Based on an analysis of prior research, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from medical errors. On the CDC's official list, that would rank just behind heart disease and cancer, which each took about 600,000 lives in 2014, and in front of respiratory disease, which caused about 150,000 deaths.
Medical mistakes that can lead to death range from surgical complications that go unrecognized to mix-ups with the doses or types of medications patients receive. Like the case of August Elliot in Idaho given the wrong medication and died in his father's arms in the hospital.
But no one knows the exact toll taken by medical errors. In significant part, that's because the coding system used by CDC to record death certificate data doesn't capture things like communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors and poor judgment that cost lives, the study says.
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Idaho Pediatric Death Statistics. These are the only statistics available for cause of death. These do NOT take into account medical error.