Can you guess what the third leading cause of death in the United States is?

Answer: medical errors.

According to a Johns Hopkins study, over 250,000 people die annually due to a medical error. Other reports have claimed the mortality rate is as high as 440,000.

The U.S. patient-care study from 2016, explored death-rate data for eight consecutive years. “The researchers discovered that based on a total of 35,416,020 hospitalizations, there was a pooled incidence rate of 251,454 deaths per year — or about 9.5 percent of all deaths — that stemmed from medical error,” says Dr. Martin Makary of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Providing Patient-Centered Care

We know these casualties are inevitable, so it’s crucial for organizations to prioritize advance care planning and programs around this. Advance care planning is a key to achieving patient-centered care, especially in the face of adverse medical results. This process involves educating patients and their family members about their options. Education should happen both in the home and clinical setting. Clinicians should then have open discussions with patients about their wishes, beliefs, and values. Shared decision making determines the best path to care for an individuals needs.

Patients with serious illness, nearing the end of their life, are even more susceptible to the adverse effects of medical errors. Thus, they should be actively engaged in their clinical decision making. Advance care planning processes are proven to raise patient outcomes, by making sure that a patient’s wishes are met should they fall victim to an unforeseen error.

The reality is that life will inevitably come to an end. When all resources have been allocated, it’s important to continue the conversation about how they want to live the rest of their life. Often, end-of-life conversations are had too late or avoided entirely, and for many reasons. It’s not easy to talk about dying. The clinician is uncomfortable having these conversations because they have not had training. They assume someone else will have the conversation. There are no formal advance care planning program in place. There is no easy way to document these conversations. The list goes on and on.

Putting the proper programs in place (ideally before a terminal diagnosis) will help reduce not only medical errors, but also unwanted care. And shared decision making is an excellent tool that can be used to bridge the gap between how patient’s want to live their life, and the care they recieve.

About the Author


Vynca, based in Palo Alto, Calif., provides comprehensive advance care planning technology solutions that enable health care organizations to deliver high-quality end-of-life care consistent with an individual’s preferences.

The company helps patients, families and health care providers have meaningful conversations about future care preferences, ensure that wishes are documented accurately and provides real-time access to this critical information throughout the care continuum.