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Fact check: Are 5 million Indians dying every year due to medical negligence?

Many media reports carried the unedited version of PTI, which claimed that a study conducted by Harvard University last year showed that nearly 5 million (50 lakh) deaths occur in India due to medical error triggered by lack of practical knowledge among the doctors and nurses to handle patients.

News Agency PTI published a story claiming that as per a study conducted by Harvard University last year, there have been as many as 50 lakh deaths due to medical negligence in India. The story was on a specialised course, Acute Critical Care Course (ACCC) which is mandatory for surgical trainees in the US and the UK, which aids medical institutes in bringing down the death rate of patients and was carried by many media houses.

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All the reports carried the unedited version of PTI, which claimed that a study conducted by Harvard University last year showed that nearly 5 million (50 lakh) deaths occur in India due to medical error triggered by lack of practical knowledge among the doctors and nurses to handle patients.

Claims that Harvard University study stating 50 lakh death annually due to medical negligence

However, that is not true. The study from Harvard School of Public Health from 2013 states that about 5.2 million injuries (not deaths) take place in India due to medical negligence. Moreover, the Harvard School of Public Health report is from September 2013 and not last year as talked about by PTI.

2013 report of Harvard School of Public Health

The death rate in India currently is 7.3 per thousand people while the population is pegged at about 133.92 crore (approximately). So based on the calculations, between 97 to 99 lakh people die in India every year. Of which about 45 lakh deaths are recorded for people over the age of 60 years. Going by these statistics, if PTI report is to be believed as many as almost every other person who died in India died due to medical errors.

Over and above that, there is a difference between medical error and medical negligence. Medical error would be an error in planning or executing an action. Using adverse drug, improper transfusion, surgical injuries, etc are medical or clinical errors. On the other hand, an action by a doctor or a medical professional which leads to one suffering an avoidable injury is medical negligence.

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