In a scathing blog post on the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s website, Shyam Sabat, MD, associate professor of neuroradiology at Pennsylvania State University in Hershey, Penn., has called for a retraction of a study on medical errors published by the BMJ in May 2016.

The study, titled “Medical Error: The Third Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.,” made national headlines with its conclusion that medical errors kill more than 250,000 people annually in the United States, making medical errors the third leading cause of death in the country.

Dr Sabat argues that the paper is seriously flawed and merits retraction. “[T]he paper,” wrote Dr Sabat, “is a shoddy piece of scientific and statistical work which cannot stand the close scrutiny of peer physician researchers and professional statisticians.”


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Dr Sabat had Vernon Chinchilli, PhD, professor and chair of the department of public health sciences at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine, review the study.  

“The paper, which calls itself a meta-analysis of 4 studies, is actually just a borrowed summary of a single study (by Healthgrades, published in 2004). The other 3 studies just have 795, 838, and 2,341 patients respectively, versus 37 million in the Healthgrades study,” wrote Dr Sabat. Thus, he argues, the 3 smaller studies do not have the statistical power to be grouped with the first study to form a meta-analysis since the Healthgrades study will dominate the results.

He also points out that the Healthgrades study consisted of only Medicare patients – aged 65 years and older – who are “older, sicker, and more vulnerable, and hence will have a higher morbidity and mortality for a given medical error than the general U.S. population.” Yet the mortality rates from the Healthgrades study were applied to all U.S. inpatient admissions.

“We demand that the BMJ group immediately retract the paper and issue a widely circulated apology to counter the blame and shame the U.S. medical community has already received from its reckless act,” wrote Dr Sabat.

Dr Sabat and Virginia Hall, MD, FACOG, FACP, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Pennsylvania State University, have launched a change.org petition (http://ow.ly/RbP7302i5At).

“[A] few years from now, no one will question how the conclusion in the paper was reached; everyone will just cite the result as if it were some gospel truth,” the petition states. “Hence it is important to speak up against this paper right now.”