Small Practice

To Err Is Human

By Betty Rabinowitz

Blog    To Err Is Human

Medical errors are the third-highest cause of death in the United States according to a 2016 BMJ article. Only cancer and heart disease surpass medical errors as causes of death. According to a study by Johns Hopkins, approximately 250,000 patients die each year in the U.S. because of medical care—equivalent to 1 1/2 jumbo jets crashing daily in the U.S. alone!

It’s important for us to understand how this could happen in a healthcare system like ours. After all, we have the best-trained physicians and the most advanced facilities and technologies in the world. We spend 3.6 trillion dollars annually on healthcare, and still erroneous care causes a staggering amount of morbidity and mortality.

Clearly, medical errors are not, as a rule, the result of the actions of bad doctors or bad nurses; errors are more commonly caused by faulty systems, processes and conditions that lead people to make mistakes or fail to prevent them. Human actions are inherently error prone; therefore, the Institute of Medicine concluded we can best prevent mistakes by designing health systems that make it harder for healthcare teams to provide “wrong” care and easier to provide care that is “right.”

To prevent medical errors, we must understand the different types of medical errors that occur and the underlying cognitive science that explains the human vulnerability that leads to different types of errors. Human cognitive processes are highly susceptible to bias—almost 200 types of cognitive bias have been identified Many of these biases powerfully influence medical decision-making and interventions, and understanding these biases is an important step in avoiding negative consequences. 

To learn more about medical errors, join us Tuesday, July 23, for the first of two webinars focused on understanding medical errors. The first webinar will discuss the classifications of errors and different types of errors we are prone to. The second webinar, on July 30, will shed light on different cognitive biases and their impact on mistakes and errors. We will also explore the ways in which technology, such as electronic health records (EHRs), can mitigate medical errors. Register now or learn more by clicking here.


Dr. Betty Rabinowitz MD FACP

Chief Medical Officer

Get in touch with Betty