The 5 best (and worst) states in America to fall ill

The third leading cause of death in the U.S. is medical error. Some parts of the country are more prone than others

Published April 19, 2016 8:30AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet Quick, what’s the third leading cause of death in the United States? If you named a disease, you’d be wrong. The correct answer is medical error. According to statistics from the National Practitioner Data Bank, up to 400,000 patients in the country die every year due to mistakes made by medical professionals, costing the country $15-19 billion annually in additional medical costs.

Medical malpractice is defined as any act or omission by a doctor or medical professional that deviates from accepted practice, causing injury to the patient. That injury can range anywhere from temporary discomfort to serious permanent injury, or worse, death. A recent statistical study of medical malpractice over a 10-year period, from 2004-2014, shined a light on the riskiest states in America to get sick in, or need surgery in.

Of the top 10 states in which medical error resulted in death or permanent major injury, half are in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast, including four of the top five states. The number-one state in this category is Pennsylvania, with 64 death/major injury malpractice suits per 100,000 state residents.

Following Pennsylvania are:

2. New Jersey (61 per 100,000)

3. Louisiana (56 per 100,00)

4. New York (55 per 100,000)

5. Washington, D.C. (49 per 100,000)

Rounding out the top 10 are Kansas, New Mexico, Florida, Massachusetts, and West Virginia.

Best and Worst States to Get Medical Treatment

While this is a somewhat subjective category, it can be argued that the more malpractice suits that occur in a state, the more questionable the medical practice is in that state. While questions can be raised about an individual state as far as the differences in the state’s medical liability laws, the litigiousness of the population, the number of lawyers, and where the state might fall in the red state/blue state spectrum, if we look at just the per capita numbers, the Mid-Atlantic/Northeast again wins out (or loses) as the worst region to seek medical treatment, again with four of the top five states being from that region.

New York wins the booby prize, with 116 malpractice suits (both minor and major) per 100,000 residents

Following New York in this category are:

2. New Jersey (95 per 100,000)

3. Pennsylvania (92 per 100,000)

4. Washington, D.C. (91.5 per 100,000)

5. Louisiana (89 per 100,000)

Rounding it out are West Virginia, Kansas, Montana, Rhode Island, and Michigan.

On the flip side, the least litigious malpractice states (thus, arguably, the least likely to make a medical error while treating you) are:

1. Alabama (18 per 100,000)

2. Wisconsin (19 per 100,000)

3. Minnesota (20 per 100,000)

4. North Carolina (24 per 100,000)

5. Virginia (29 per 100,000)

6. Hawaii (29 per 100,000)

7. Arkansas (29 per 100,000)

8. Idaho (30 per 100,000)

9. Georgia (36 per 100,000)

10. Tennessee (36 per 100,000)

Malpractice suits come in all shapes and sizes, but they can be broken down into some general categories: Diagnosis-related, surgery-related, treatment-related, obstetrics-related, and medication-related.

Here are the top five worst states in each category.

Most Diagnosis-Related Malpractice Suits

1. Pennsylvania (87 diagnosis-related malpractice suits per 100,000 residents)

2. New York (83 per 100,000)

3. Michigan (63 per 100,000)

4. New Jersey (61 per 100,000)

5. West Virginia (58 per 100,000)

Most Surgery-Related Malpractice Suits

1. New York (69 surgery-related malpractice suits per 100,000 residents)

2. Washington, D.C. (63 per 100,000 residents)

3. Pennsylvania (62 per 100,000 residents)

4. West Virginia (48 per 100,000 residents)

5. Montana (46 per 100,000 residents)

Most Treatment-Related Malpractice Suits

1. New York (75 treatment-related malpractice suits per 100,000)

2. Washington, D.C. (69 per 100,000)

3. Pennsylvania (56 per 100,000)

4. New Jersey (54 per 100,000)

5. Michigan (46 per 100,000)

Most Obstetrics-Related Malpractice Suits

1. Washington, D.C. (28 obstetrics-related malpractice suits per 100,000)

2. New York (23 per 100,000)

3. New Jersey (20 per 100,000)

4. Pennsylvania (20 per 100,000)

5. Kansas (14 per 100,000)

Most Medication-Related Malpractice Suits

1. Louisiana (16 medication-related malpractice suits per 100,000)

2. Washington, D.C. (12 per 100,000)

3. New Mexico (12 per 100,000)

4. Pennsylvania (12 per 100,000)

5. West Virginia (11 per 100,000)

Medical Malpractice by Practitioner

Looking at almost 600,000 malpractice suits over the 10-year period, nurse practitioners were the objects of the suit in 45% of the cases. Physicians were the objects in 31% of the suits. Broken down by practitioner:

1. Nurse practitioners (270,365 malpractice suits)

2. Physicians, MDs and DOs (182,095)

3. Dentists (35,920)

4. Therapeutics (33,854)

5. Medical technicians/medical assistants (26,293)

6. Pharmacists (20,460)

7. Chiropractors (9,859)

8. Other (5,983)

9. Physician assistants (4,922)

10. Podiatrists (4,482)

11. Optometrists (1,767)

One recent study indicated that over the course of their lifetimes, most Americans will receive at least one incorrect diagnosis from a medical practitioner. Given the possibly serious consequences of improper treatment, it is important that people take ownership of any ailments they may be suffering from. This does not mean following the circuitous trail of quack treatments and unproven remedies rampant on the Internet. It stresses the importance of educating yourself, discussing your condition with your doctor and seeking second opinions when there is any level of discomfort with an initial diagnosis.

By Larry Schwartz

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Alternet National Practitioner Data Bank