Expert: Study Listing Medical Error as Third-Leading Cause of Death Is “Shoddy” Science, Should Be Retracted

July 20, 2016 | Strategic Insights for Health System


​The recent study naming medical error as the third leading cause of death in the United States is "shoddy" science and should be retracted, according to an editorial written by a Pennsylvania neuroradiologist and published on the Pennsylvania Medical Society's website on June 21, 2016. The study, originally published in BMJ(see the May 11, 2016,HRC Alerts), gained widespread media attention, the author charges, because of its "tabloid type spicy headline." After reviewing the paper along with an expert statistician, the author found that the study was not actually a meta-analysis because one of the four studies analyzed (with 37 million patients) was overwhelmingly larger than the other three (with 795, 838, and 2,341 subjects, respectively). Further skewing the results, the author said, the rates in the larger study came from a Medicare population (which is older, sicker, and more vulnerable than the general U.S. population) and were then applied to the entire U.S. population without correction. The author called for BMJ to "issue a widely circulated apology to counter the blame and shame the U.S. medical community has already received from its reckless act." The editorial is not the first criticism of the study.

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