I just can’t get by the number. Over 400,000 people die each year in US hospitals due to medical errors. That’s over 1,000 per day. Or one or two in the time it takes you to read this article.

This latest estimate came from a study published by Dr. John T. James Ph.D. His estimates are the best numbers we have. Why? Because these deaths aren’t tracked like auto accidents or industrial safety accidents. medical errors are historically under-reported if they are reported at all. That makes it hard to tell if a particular hospital is doing poorly or if we are making improvements across the healthcare system.

As everyone who has read quality guru W. Edwards Deming’s book Out of the Crisis knows, you must have accurate data to guide improvement. Without it, you are shooting in the dark.

What can we do to improve patient safety? It depends on where you are in the system.

Patients can become informed (hard to do) and insist on the best treatment. For some ideas, see:


Those in the healthcare system should be striving to improve performance. How? Use TapRooT® to investigate medical errors and develop effective fixes is a start. But you can do more including learning new performance improvement ideas at the TapRooT® Summit.

I’d like to think there was a regulatory or government effort that could work miracles, but I’m afraid that most of the legislation in the healthcare arena has been a failure (and calling it a failure is probably generous).

So as a patient, arm yourself. And if you are a healthcare professional, do what you can with what you have to make progress possible.

What if you are in the government? Would it be too much to ask for accurate, public reporting of these accidents?