The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent report gave the top 10 reasons for death. Unsurprisingly, the top two were cardiac disease and cancer, with unintentional accidents coming in third. The remaining seven reasons were unremarkable and familiar.

The surprise is that the true third leading cause of death was not “unintentional accidents”—and the CDC failed to include this cause anywhere in their report. In a landmark study from esteemed Johns Hopkins medical school, rated as the second best medical research source in the United States by US News, a shocking result emerged.

Johns Hopkins research and the CDC

According to a carefully designed eight-year study of medical malpractice deaths in the United States, Johns Hopkins researchers found preventable medical errors to be the third most common cause of death in the United States. The researchers—as they had done repeatedly over the years–called once more for the CDC to include these results in its annual report of America’s leading causes of deaths. The CDC ignored the request, and it still omits medical malpractice from its annual death report lists.

The elephant in the room

If the government declines to acknowledge the Johns Hopkins study, who will hold hospitals and doctors accountable for these preventable deaths? Individuals take doctors and hospitals to court when malpractice errors are so egregious, even large medical institutions cannot cover them up. Significant awards to patients’ families fail to shake the laissez-faire attitude in current medical practice.

A tragedy unfolds

Consider a man in Idaho Falls, Idaho, who hurt his back in a lifting accident at his blue-collar job. The man sought treatment at an urgent care center owned by and located across the street from a major hospital. The hospital’s emergency room was only a few yards from the urgent care center’s entrance.

The man walked into the care facility, complaining of lower back pain. The medical personnel did not immobilize him—a basic precaution that even a beginning EMT performs when treating back pain. They subjected the man to a series of tests and X-rays, requiring him to bend and twist. The staff positioned his torso, neck and head at various awkward angles.

The man was then told to walk down the hall for yet another X-ray. The technician told him where to stand, but the man said he was unable to stand—he could no longer feel his legs. Even then, the staff continued to put their patient through more tests. Finally, they gave up and discharged him to the hospital emergency room. Doctors there discovered he had a herniated disc that, thanks to the aggressive treatment at the urgent care center, had finally severed his spinal cord. The man walked into the hospital’s urgent care facility with his spinal cord intact. He left the hospital ER in a wheelchair, paralyzed for life from the waist down.

The jury awarded the man over $7.9 million for his injuries and suffering. In an attempt at self-justification, the hospital claims that its urgent care staff did nothing wrong, instead blaming the patient for not going to the ER in the first place.