6 Common Preventable Medical Errors

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Medical technology today is advanced, and it is explicitly designed to reduce the number of errors. Unfortunately, medical errors still happen at a staggering rate. In fact, one Johns Hopkins study found that over 250,000 people die annually from medical errors, and in some cases, they estimate the numbers could be as high as 440,000. Medical malpractice is now the third leading cause of death, trailing heart disease and cancer.

A few of the most common types of medical errors include: medication errors, errors related to anesthesia, hospital acquired infections, missed or delayed diagnosis, avoidable delay in treatment, inadequate follow-up after treatment, inadequate monitoring after a procedure, failure to act on test results, failure to take proper precautions, and technical medical errors.

Studying these mistakes, learning how to prevent, monitor, and respond to them is key to changing the standards of care. By working to eliminate common medical errors, healthcare systems and providers can protect patients, protect themselves, improve standards of care, and lower costs.

Patients have options for recovery after suffering from malpractice, including filing a malpractice lawsuit against the physician, hospital, or another healthcare professional that injures them or causes death to a loved one.

Whether you are a patient or a concerned family member, knowing the most common causes of these medical errors could save a life. When patients are more proactive and aware, they can ensure they receive the best standard of care – even when their physician is too busy.


1. Misdiagnosis

Error in diagnosis is a common medical error. Incorrect diagnosis can result in unnecessary or harmful treatment. A wrong diagnosis can lead to a patient receiving incorrect and/or unnecessary treatment. When this involves medication, it could end up being more harmful than the patient’s true condition, or the patient may not receive the correct medication to treat an undiagnosed condition.


2. Delayed Diagnosis

A delayed diagnosis can be as detrimental as a misdiagnosis. A delay in diagnosis can prevent the patient from getting necessary treatment in a timely manner. A delayed diagnosis occurs when the physician eventually reaches the right diagnosis, but not in a reasonable time. They may put off ordering tests for the proper diagnosis while the patient suffers in agony. Chest pain, for example, is often labeled as heartburn. While they wait, their symptoms worsen and, eventually, they suffer a massive heart attack. Had they received the proper treatment when they arrived, they would not have suffered the same complications.


3. Medication Error

Pharmacists are sometimes responsible for mixing ingredients to make a patient’s medication. Mistakes during this process can make a drug ineffective or cause an allergic reaction or some other type of adverse event. Pharmaceutical companies can also be liable for injuries as a result of incorrect compounding.

Drug errors or drug-related injuries are one of the most serious medical mistakes that can happen in hospitals, occurring in about half of surgeries. Prescribing the wrong dose or failing to account for drug interactions can have detrimental effects for the patient. Prescribers and caregivers must carefully consider a patient’s medical history to watch for allergies and potentially harmful drug combinations before administering medicine. If they fail to do so, or if information is left off of a patient’s chart, the consequences can be very serious.


4. Infection

Infection is a risk of almost any hospital stay or medical procedure. Most hospital infections are not serious and can be treated. However, some infections can become much more serious and even deadly. Each year more than 2 million patients get healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) that cause nearly 100,000 patient deaths. Researchers have proven that infections are the most hazardous complications of hospital care, and the most common infection is Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has research results that show one in every 20 hospitalized patients contracts an HAI.


5. Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are common, despite regulations. Most are not life-threatening, but they are still debilitating and dangerous. Common reasons for surgical error claims include operating on the wrong side of the body, operating on the wrong patient, post-operative infections, bleeding, anesthesia errors, and brain damage during sedation.

Frequent surgical considerations that involve negligence stem from a failure to adequately complete the procedure. A few allegations occur when the doctor

  • Fails to practice proper preoperative care.
  • Fails to account for a pre-existing condition that requires special care.
  • Does not follow established procedures.
  • Fails to adequately protect the surgical site from infection.
  • Fails to conduct post-operative procedures or did not adequately provide post-treatment instructions for self-care for the patient.

Complications from surgical errors can include the following:

  • Acute respiratory failure
  • Blood clots
  • Infections
  • Metabolic issues
  • Wound reopening


6. Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is common in surgery as well as with outpatient procedures. For example, a person’s annual colonoscopy requires anesthesia. Dental work also may use sedation.

Anesthesia errors can be devastating, especially when a proper medical history is not taken or the patient is not properly monitored. Patients can suffer from drug interactions, brain damage from a lack of oxygen, organ failure, heart attacks, and even allergic reactions.


Proving Medical Malpractice Based on Diagnostic Errors

The law does not hold doctors legally responsible for all diagnostic errors. Instead, patients usually must prove three things in order to prevail in a medical malpractice lawsuit based on a wrong diagnosis:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed.
  • The doctor was negligent — that is, did not provide treatment in a reasonably skillful and competent manner.
  • The doctor’s negligence caused actual injury to the patient.


Was the Doctor Negligent?

A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis itself is not evidence of negligence. Skillful doctors can and do make diagnostic errors even when using reasonable care. The key is determining whether the doctor acted competently, which involves an evaluation of what the doctor did and did not do in arriving at a diagnosis. Sometimes, after further investigation, the doctor will discover other information that will cause him or her to add to the differential diagnostic list.

In a medical malpractice case based on diagnostic error, the patient must prove that a doctor in a similar specialty, under similar circumstances, would not have misdiagnosed the patient’s illness or condition. In a practical sense, this means proving one of two things:

  • The doctor did not include the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list, and a reasonably skillful and competent doctor under similar circumstances would have.
  • The doctor included the correct diagnosis on the differential diagnosis list, but failed to perform appropriate tests or seek opinions from specialists in order to investigate the viability of the diagnosis.


Protect yourself and your loved ones from medical mistakes

The potential for medical error shouldn’t stop you or your family from getting the care you need. The good news is that most medical mistakes are preventable.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If possible, bring someone else with you, a friend or family member, to help you. Write everything down – your medications, allergies, previous doctors and health issues, and any questions you may have. When you’re being discharged from the hospital, make sure you ask your doctor to explain your home care and recovery process.

If you or a loved one has suffered injury due to medical malpractice and have questions about seeking legal action, call us now at 1-877-241-9554 to learn more about your options. A free consultation is just a phone call away.


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