Just how often do people die as a result of medical errors? Certainly more often than many patients would prefer to contemplate, and possibly far more often than was previously believed to be the case.

Until relatively recently, widely accepted estimates reported in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine set the number of fatal medical errors at about 98,000 deaths per year in the United States. As high as that figure may seem, newer research pegs the number of unnecessary hospital deaths much higher.

According to research published in the Journal of Public Safety in September 2013, anywhere between 210,000 and 440,000 people die each year for reasons that can be traced back to medical errors and other types of preventable harm in the hospital setting. If those figures are accurate, it would mean that medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death nationwide, following heart disease and cancer.

A clear and pervasive risk

Regardless of the exact scope of the problem, it is clear that medical errors are a serious and pervasive threat to patient safety at hospitals throughout the United States - especially considering that the estimates discussed above count only those that result in death. Each year at hospitals throughout New York and the rest of the nation, nonfatal medical errors occur in quantities that dwarf the already alarming death rate.

While some hospital errors are relatively harmless, or are caught before any serious damage takes place, many others have devastating and long-lasting consequences.

According to testimony given at a Senate hearing on health and aging in July 2014, about 10,000 people each day - well over 3.5 million per year - suffer serious complications due to medical mistakes in the United States.

Error-prevention not always effective

Although many hospitals are taking steps to reduce harmful medical errors, those measures are not always effective. According to research published in the journal Health Affairs in 2011, the standard safeguards put in place to catch medical errors fail in about 9 cases out of 10.

However, some efforts to improve patient outcomes and reduce errors are proving effective. At New York's City Beth Israel Medical Center, for example, a program of intensive monitoring and troubleshooting undertaken in 2008 led to a reduction in harmful errors by more than two-thirds in the space of just a few years, according the U.S. News & World Report.

Legal advocacy for patients

New York is home to some of the nation's most respected medical establishments, but even at these prestigious hospitals, unnecessary errors can and do occur. If you or a family member has been seriously harmed in the medical setting, you may be able to recover financial compensation for the damages you have sustained. For a personalized consultation of your legal rights and options, contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Linnan & Fallon, LLP.