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What Are the Leading Causes of Death in PA?

Posted January 15, 2016 | Medical Malpractice

In 2013, the leading causes of death in the United States were heart disease (611,105 fatalities), cancer (584,881 fatalities), and medical malpractice (about 440,000 fatalities).  But does Pennsylvania follow the same trends?   

Unintentional Injuries and Accidents Cause 5% of All Deaths in PA

The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that in 2007, accidental injuries were the leading cause of death in the 1- to 39-year-old age group, claiming more lives than any type of disease or disorder.  For people under 25, car accidents in Pennsylvania were especially dangerous, accounting for nearly one third of all deaths in that age group.

Anyone might guess that car crashes, which kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, would hold a high position among the common causes of death in Pennsylvania.  However, when you take all age groups into consideration, the greatest killer overall may come as a surprise: unintentional poisoning.  In 2007, accidental poisoning killed nearly 1,550 Pennsylvanians, which equates to one death every six hours – about 60 more than the approximate 1,490 statewide fatalities caused by car accidents the same year.

That being said, only a small number of these poisoning deaths were caused by ingestion of substances we typically think of as poisons – pesticides, cleaning fluids, automotive products.  Many are perhaps better described as overdose deaths, which are slightly more common in Pennsylvania (14.6 deaths per 100,000 population) than in the U.S. on average (12.7 deaths per 100,000 population).  In fact, the Pennsylvania figures on overdose deaths – 1,800 in 2007 – are even greater than the fatality numbers reported by the state Department of Health.

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As for chronic disease, the Department of Health’s most recent data was compiled in 2011, so the data – taken from 2009 – isn’t particularly new.  However, the passage of just a few years saw overdose and poisoning deaths outpaced by medical conditions.  Mirroring national trends, heart disease and cancer occupied the #1 and #2 positions, causing 32,000 deaths and 26,680 deaths respectively.  Following closely behind were:

#3 – Stroke

#4 – Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD)

#5 – Unintentional injury

#6 – Alzheimer’s disease

#7 – Diabetes

In 2010, the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association released their own fact sheet breaking down the leading causes of death in Pennsylvania that year, including both medical conditions and accidental injuries.  Here’s what the AHA and ASA found:

#1 – Heart disease/other (25% of deaths, each)

#2 – Cancer (23% of deaths)

#3 – CLRD/stroke/unintentional injury (5% of deaths, each)

#4 – Alzheimer’s disease/diabetes (3% of deaths, each)

#5 – Influenza/pneumonia/septicemia/nephritis (2% of deaths, each)

As this list indicates, the AHA/ASA findings aligned almost perfectly with the leading causes of death identified by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  The AHA/ASA also found that in Pennsylvania as compared to the United States, more people:

  • Were smokers (22.4% PA, 21.1% US)
  • Were overweight or obese (64.6% PA, 63.5% US)
  • Have had a heart attack (4.6% PA, 4.4% US)
  • Have had a stroke (3.1% PA, 2.9% US)

Medical Errors Become Third Leading Cause of Death Nationwide

For many adults, making a few lifestyle modifications can help dramatically decrease the chance of developing a serious medical condition.  However, even the highly health-conscious can fall victim to medical malpractice – and hard data shows that the risk today is greater than ever before.

Each year, research group Leapfrog conducts a standardized, nationwide hospital survey, which grades over 2,500 facilities on their ability “to prevent errors, accidents, injuries and infections.”  This rating system, known as the Hospital Safety Score, is regarded as a gold standard for hospital evaluation in the United States.  In 2013, Leapfrog’s survey made national headlines when it found that as many as 440,000 people are killed by preventable medical errors each year, making malpractice the third leading cause of death in the United States just behind cancer and heart disease.

“We are burying a population the size of Miami every year from medical errors that can be prevented,” said Leapfrog president Leah Binder.

This frightening figure becomes even more alarming once you take a look at data from the past few decades.  In 1999, a groundbreaking study published by the Institute of Medicine placed the annual death count from medical errors at 98,000, which means that malpractice deaths have more than quadrupled in a period of just 14 years.

Extrapolation, of course, is never certain; but hypothetically, if this trend were to continue at the same rate, then beginning from 2013 when the Leapfrog survey was taken, the United States would be losing well over a million lives to malpractice annually by 2027.

Interestingly, if court data is any indicator, Pennsylvania seems to be trending in the opposite direction.  According to an article published by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania in May 2015, malpractice filings in Pennsylvania actually reached a 14-year low, plunging “to the lowest point since statewide tracking began in 2000.”

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While fewer Pennsylvanians are filing malpractice lawsuits, that doesn’t mean malpractice isn’t actively harming patients every day.  If you have any suspicions that your surgeon or doctor made a mistake, you deserve to have the issue investigated by an experienced personal injury lawyer.  If you were the victim of a medical error, or if your doctor missed a cancer diagnosis, you may be entitled to compensation for your hospital bills, the time you missed from work, and other hardships and losses caused by the poor medical treatment you received.

To talk about your options in a free, completely private legal consultation, call medical malpractice attorney Brent Wieand at (877) 654-3887.  You will not be charged any fees for your consultation, and Brent will keep your information confidential.

***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes.  It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.***