BOSTON (CBS) – Researchers say medical mistakes should be listed as the third leading cause of death in the United States.

The study, led by a Johns Hopkins surgeon, estimates that more than 250,000 Americans die each year from unrecognized surgical complications or medication mix-ups. They say the Centers for Disease Control that ranks causes of deaths every year, does not take into account medical mistakes.

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Death certificates often list the cause of death as a patient’s underlying diagnosis whether it’s heart disease or colon cancer or emphysema. But the researchers argue that doctors should also be asked if a medical error may have contributed, like accidentally giving a patient the wrong medication or a slip of the knife during surgery, so that these things can be tracked more carefully.

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Understandably, admitting error and then documenting it can expose doctors to potential lawsuits, so they would need some type of legal protection to offer full transparency.

Without a doubt, the vast majority of nurses and doctors work hard to “first do no harm, but we are human and mistakes happen. And there are more checks and balances that can be put in place to keep patients safer.

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Seeing medical errors listed as the third leading cause of death certainly gets everyone’s attention, and it sounds scary, but the researchers say it needs to get everyone’s attention because that is the only way that hospitals will get the funding they need to fix the problem. And that’s really the goal.

Dr. Mallika Marshall