Medical errors are the third leading cause of death for Americans, claiming a quarter of a million lives a year, according to study results released by researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

If fatalities resulting from mistakes and safety lapses in medical care were counted as deaths, as are deaths from disease and injury, they would account for more fatalities than respiratory disease, and trail only heart disease and cancer as a cause of death, argues researchers in the report, published in the British Medical Journal.

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