If I were to ask what the leading causes of death are in the United States, what would you say?
There are, of course, the big ones: heart disease and cancer. They’ve been No. 1 and 2 for a long time, accruing cleverly sloganed campaigns and entire months devoted to their recognition. But according to a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been neglecting to identify the third leading cause of death in the United States: medical error.
In an open letter sent to the CDC in early May, the researchers wrote that the oversight is a product of the centers’ data collection, specifically which causes of death are assigned a code and which are not. Diseases, morbid conditions and injuries receive an official designation, called an International Classification of Disease billing code. Human and system factors aren’t classified. Because the CDC uses only coded causes to determine its rankings, it skips over the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by things like diagnostic errors, system defects and preventable adverse events — all of which the researchers said could amount to a low-balled estimate of 251,454 deaths in 2014.
The current leading causes on the CDC’s list receive the vast majority of funding and research proposals, the researchers pointed out (to the point of redundancy), while research on reducing preventable harm is severely underfunded and largely ignored. But aside from helping fund research that could solve these issues, a corrected ranking would open an honest conversation about medical errors, which are often discussed internally and without fanfare. So how are doctors across the country supposed to learn from each other?
Admitting to the prevalence of something harmful, especially something that implicates the people who are trying to mitigate death, is difficult. But then, it’s also the first step to recovery.
By Samantha Schuyler
Nearly two years ago, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot, and DeRay McKesson quit his job in Minneapolis, drove nine hours down to Missouri, and joined the protests that engulfed Ferguson.
Four months ago, McKesson made the journey back from activist to politician and declared his candidacy for mayor of Baltimore. On April 26, he finished sixth, with only 2 percent of the vote.
McKesson joined the race on the last possible day. With only 80 days before the election, this left him little time to assuage the perception that his campaign represented opportunistic and outside influences. The city went to the polls a year and seven days after the death of Freddie Gray. Every candidate had a plan to reform the police force — not even McKesson’s work with Black Lives Matter could help his campaign. Rather, it prompted local activists to question where he had been before the election — why was it not in Baltimore?
“For him not to have interacted with people involved in the movement from Baltimore City,” activist Kwame Rose said to the Huffington Post, “I think that’s very problematic.”
McKesson was born and raised in Baltimore, but his work with BLM and his massive Twitter following (nearly 350,000) catapulted him to prominence far beyond the city’s mayoral office. Only 2 percent of his Twitter followers live in Baltimore; national publications covered McKesson’s bid for mayor closely, but local newspapers were silent. Former mayor Sheila Dixon told the Baltimore Sun she had never heard of him.
In the past year, Black Lives Matter has found some success in transitioning from a protest movement to a political one. In Chicago, BLM-backed Kim Foxx unseated Anita Alvarez, and in Cleveland, BLM organizers ousted Tim McGinty, the prosecutor who failed to indict the officers responsible for 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s death. McKesson’s campaign failed to join that list of victories. But he’s optimistic.
“Sleep well, y’all,” McKesson tweets nightly. “Remember to dream.”
By Molly Minta