The Eighth Leading Cause of Death in the U.S. is…

Health and Healthcare CategoryThe eighth leading cause of death in the U.S. is medication error. This statistic may surprise you. Other frightening statistics include the following:

* 7,000 deaths occur each year that are directly attributable to medication errors.
* Errors occur around 1 in 5 times that medication is administered.
* The FDA estimates 1 death per day due to medication errors.

The three most common errors are giving an improper dose, giving the wrong drug, and giving the drug by the wrong route (for example, intravenous instead of oral).

MistakesEveryone involved in health care is aware of errors and know that they occur more often than they should. The question then becomes:

If it is known that errors are happening, what can be done to prevent them?

Nursing personnel are the front-line staff most often responsible for administering medications to patients. Any factor that decreases the effective functioning of nursing staff will impact how safely nurses can perform their duties.

The nursing shortage impacts nursing care in a negative way. A shortage of nursing staff translates to fewer nurses to care for the same amount of patients. The shortage of nurses also means that nurses are working overtime more often, and coming in to work on their days off more often. Nurses often work in excess of 12 hours a day. All of these factors add up to fatigue and stress, a double whammy when it comes to human error.

Hospitals are now turning to technology to attempt to decrease hospital medication errors. Computer-generated prescriptions cut down on errors that occur in transcribing doctor’s orders. In some centers, nurses are being provided with hand-held computers that contain drug information on dosing, routes, and adverse effects. Medications are being provided in single-dose packaging, and drugs that have names similar to other drugs are packaged differently and include clearer labeling. Dangerous medications are signed for by two staff members instead of one (for example, insulin, narcotics, and anticoagulants). Abbreviations that are dangerous or misleading have been abolished in some cases.

Patients are now becoming more educated about their medications, their conditions, and their treatment, but too many still blithely accept medications and treatments without asking questions of health care personnel. All too often, patients are not aware of the names, correct doses, and prescribing reasons behind the medications they are on. Questioning medical personnel about their medications and why they are being given these medications is one way that patients can help safeguard themselves.

The nursing shortage is not likely to end any time in the near future. Decreasing the risk of medication errors is the job of all medical personnel who care for patients. Doctors can do their part by writing (or printing) orders legibly and clearly stating their orders with no ambiguity. Nursing staff who administer medications need to take advantage of all technology available that may help them do their jobs more safely. Finally, patients need to be their own best advocates by being fully aware of their treatment plan and medications. If a patient is unable to understand, a family member or friend can take on this role.

To err is human but, by working together, hospital personnel can help reduce the staggering statistics of medication error.


Kramer, J.S., Hopkins, P.J., Rosendale, J.C., Garrelts, J.C., Hale, L.S., Nester, T.M., Cochran, P., Eidem, L.A., Haneke, R.D. (2007). Implementation of an electronic system for medication reconciliation. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, 64(4), 404-422. DOI: 10.2146/ajhp060506

  • Frank

    Medication Errors are not the 8th leading cause of Death in the US for any year that I could find; not even close. Where did you get this data?

    Here is the latest data from the CDC:

  • Frank:
    Thank you for your interest,

  • Pingback: Spiral Visions Blog()

  • Kathy

    Your source is outdated, Jennifer. That study was done in 2000. There are more recent studies available online. I wish you looked at your sources more carefully…

  • Mark

    suggest that medical errors are the eighth leading cause of death among Americans

    Using the word, “suggest” absolved the writer(s) of the need to be accurate and provides the article’s hook. When studies are valid, they “conclude.” This is a histrionic wate.
    There are so many variables it’s a waste of time to make any of these assertions about “errors”

  • George RN

    Jennifer, thank you for posting the source. It reports the 8th leading cause of death as “medical errors” which is different from “medication errors”. A medication error is a medical error but a medical error is not necessarily a medication error. The lead example from the article was bypassing the wrong artery.

  • Brad

    I can’t find this statistic following the link given by Jennifer. But, doing some quick research I can not find any validation for the claim of this article. I refer to the statement that Medical error is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. Of course there are medical and medication errors that lead to death. I think some clarification is in order here
    from the author. I understand a head line “hook” to get up people’s interest, but then the article is confusing to me as per my above comments.

  • I think there is a global tendency to “have a go” at the health profession whilst at the same time abrogating ones own responsibilty for their state of health. We need to meet the medical profession half way at least.

  • Pingback: The Adoption of Health IT | Brain Blogger()

Jennifer Bunn, RN

Jennifer Bunn, RN, is a registered nurse who has been practicing for over 15 years.

See All Posts By The Author

Do not miss out ever again. Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered to your inbox a few times a month.