In a groundbreaking study published in the British Journal of Medicine in 2016, Drs. Martin Makary and Michael Daniel revealed that medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Despite the alarming findings, the current methodology for identifying causes of death, which relies on the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) code, still fails to include a specific code for human error or system failures in 2022.
The absence of a proper categorization for medical error has led to an underestimation of its impact on mortality. The science of safety has evolved to recognize how communication breakdowns, diagnostic errors, poor judgment, and inadequate skills can directly result in patient harm and death. However, the current reporting system still does not accurately reflect the true extent of this issue.
Medical error has been defined as an unintended act of omission or commission, or an act that does not achieve its intended outcome. It can also involve the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim. An error of planning or execution is a medical error that deviates from the standard process of care, which may or may not cause harm to the patient.