A 2013 review of studies in the Journal of Patient Safety suggested medical errors cause somewhere between 210,000 and 400,000 deaths each year in the U.S. In a landmark report (PDF) 15 years ago, the Institute of Medicine put the number between 44,000 and 98,000. Even the lower estimate would mean medical errors kill more Americans than car accidents do.
The moment when one clinician turns over care of a patient to another is particularly hazardous, says Marty Makary, a Johns Hopkins surgeon who has written on hospital safety. “The most dangerous procedure in American emergency rooms is a patient handoff,” Makary says. Breakdowns in communication during patient handoffs “are endemic in American health care,” he says.