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What is death by misadventure?

What Is death by misadventure?

Medical misadventure is a vague term referring to an unexpected patient injury outside of the control of the physician—an ‘act of God,’ as some might call it. Misadventure can represent a countless number of nonspecific scenarios; errors in prescribed medication can be considered a ‘misadventure,’ for example. A related phrasing may be more commonly used: death by misadventure. This is a coroner’s term that originated in the UK to describe a death due to risk willingly incurred—i.e., a preventable death.

Surrounding these mysterious mishaps is a murky gray area where it can be hard to objectively separate misadventures from the much more implicit and accusatory label of medical negligence, which implies the physician either made a poor choice that directly led to patient harm or failed to treat the patient at all.

To make matters more confusing, medical error bears an unfortunate similarity to both previously mentioned terms and is often used synonymously with misadventure—even though ‘error’ is technically more aligned with medical negligence. Medical error is when a preventable incident occurs due to an inaccurate diagnosis or treatment, or a similar mishandling of medical responsibility.

Why are medical misadventures a serious problem in the U.S.?

Research done at Johns Hopkins, based on death rate data over an eight-year period, claims that on average the U.S. sees more than 250,000 deaths per year due to medical error. This estimation ranks medical error as the third highest cause of death in America, despite respiratory disease having been originally reported as the third highest cause of death by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers involved in this study say that the CDC’s means of collecting healthcare statistics neglects to appropriately represent ‘medical error’ on death certificates. “Incidence rates for deaths directly attributable to medical care gone awry haven’t been recognized in any standardized method for collecting national statistics,” said one professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The major problem with the data the CDC currently uses for its mortality statistics is this: when the U.S. first adopted the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) billing system in 1949, decision-makers at the time failed to consider that medical errors might commonly result in patient death.

This oversight resulted in a lapse in modern healthcare statistics. National mortality rates are being calculated based on billing codes that could not properly anticipate the prevalence or importance of medical misadventures. Furthermore, ICD billing codes were never intended to be used for statistics—their primary purpose was and still is payer reimbursement.

Definitive Healthcare’s All-Payor Claims Dataset reflects this idea as well. The only ICD-10 codes related to medical misadventures are codes Y62–Y69 and can be found through secondary diagnoses records.

Properly reporting medical mishaps is not just about accountability. Top-ranked causes of death inform research priorities and funding in the U.S. If the CDC is inaccurately representing the severity and commonality of medical misadventures, then researchers will not be studying new techniques that could reduce relevant incidence rates. This is undoubtedly a problem in the U.S. healthcare system that deserves more attention.

Learn more

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Definitive Healthcare

This blog was written by a former contributor at Definitive Healthcare. At Definitive Healthcare, our passion is to transform data, analytics and expertise into healthcare…

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