What are the Most Common Medical Errors?
When you seek medical treatment, you trust in the training and experience of your healthcare providers. You feel relieved that your symptoms will be addressed and that relief is just around the corner. But what happens when a healthcare provider makes a mistake? Are medical errors really a concern for patients in the United States?
Read on to learn more about medical errors, the most common medical errors occurring in the U.S., and how you can protect yourself. If you have questions about a specific situation or error, contact The Dixon Firm to speak with one of our attorneys.
How Common are Medical Errors?
At a time when science and medicine are reaching new heights, the issue of medical errors may seem like a distant concern. Unfortunately, even the most breakthrough advances in science and medicine have not eradicated the possibility for human error or omission, negligence, or maliciousness.
It has been estimated that more than 200,000 people die every year due to preventable medical errors. Some estimates suggest as many as 440,000 deaths occur each year. Estimates also suggest that up to 20 times that number suffer medical error-related injuries. So many injuries and deaths have been reported in recent years that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has labeled medical errors as the third-leading cause of death in the U.S.
What are the Most Common Medical Errors?
Medical errors take on many forms and may include actions and omissions, or failing to act. Sometimes, errors occur due to pure accident. Other times, they could easily be prevented had someone followed proper procedures and the standards of care. Here is a look at some of the most common medical errors.
According to the Institute of Medicine, around 1.5 million people suffer injuries each year due to medication errors. These errors include prescribing the wrong medication or the wrong dosage, failing to identify contraindications or allergies, or administering drugs improperly.
More than 50 percent of hospital patients are given antibiotics, and up to 50 percent of those cases involve misuse. According to the CDC, as many as half of all hospital patients receiving antibiotics do not need them, or are given the wrong one. Overusing antibiotics is dangerous because it can breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which predisposes patients to infection.
Of utmost concern is the fact that antibiotic-resistant infection clostridium difficile (C. diff.) occurs in about 250,000 patients each year, causing around 14,000 deaths. C. diff is a dangerous infection that has been linked to inappropriate antibiotic use.
Each year, as many as 722,000 people develop hospital acquired infections (HAIs). As many as 75,000 of those patients die. Many of these infections could have been prevented had healthcare providers and staff taken adequate measures to prevent, diagnose, or treat an infection.
Surgical errors are also called “never events” because they should never happen. Unfortunately, they do, and at an alarming rate. According to estimates, as many as 4,000 surgical errors occur each year in the U.S. These errors include operating on the wrong patient, operating on the wrong body part, or leaving a foreign object inside the patient’s body after surgery. Health officials have called the frequency of these errors “alarming” and “disturbing”, and rates have not decreased much in recent years.
While falls may not seem like a medical error, they often are. That’s because hospitals and staff have certain policies and procedures they must follow in order to avoid the risk of a patient falling. Estimates suggest that as many as one million patients in U.S. hospitals fall each year – falls which could have been prevented.
If you are hospitalized, there is a good chance that you will spend quite some time laying in bed. Of course, you need to rest, but you also need to keep your muscles and joints steady and strong. Hospital staff has certain policies and procedures for helping patients stay mobile, keeping linens cleaned, and avoiding unnecessary pressure on the body. When these policies are not followed, you are placed at risk for weakness, future falls, or development of bedsores.
Unnecessary Blood Transfusions
Researchers have estimated that some 60 percent of blood transfusions worldwide were “inappropriate”, with many transfusions actually increasing the risk of infection, disease, or death.
Hospital readmission rates are steadily high. Estimates suggest that one in five hospital patients are readmitted within 30 days of being discharged. While sometimes this may be unavoidable due to medical conditions, studies have shown that many readmissions are due to a patient being sent home too soon, being sent home with an infection, or needing additional treatment.
Protect Yourself from Medical Errors
One of the best ways that you can protect yourself against medical errors is by being an active participant in your healthcare. To do this, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) recommends the following:
- Make sure your doctor knows about all medications you are taking – prescription and over-the-counter. Include herbs or vitamins, supplements, or workout-related medicines.
- If you have any allergies, make sure those are listed on your medical records. Even non-medication related allergies could be relevant because medications often have many inactive ingredients.
- Make sure that you understand what medications you are taking – why you are taking it, how often, dosage, possible side effects, things to avoid, etc.
- Don’t be afraid to ask healthcare providers about hand hygiene. Many infections in hospital settings are related to improper hand hygiene.
- If you have surgery, carefully review what is being done, where, and why with your healthcare team.
- If you have a choice, choose a surgery location, such as a hospital, where many similar surgeries are performed.
- When you are discharged from a hospital, make sure you have all documents related to treatment or at-home instructions. Ask your doctor to explain what you need to do, and who you should call if complications arise.
- If you are waiting for test results, never assume that “no news is good news”. Follow up with your healthcare provider about the results of any test.
- Take a friend or family member with you to doctors appointments. This can help ensure you have all information needed.
- Do your own homework. Review symptoms or diagnoses online, ask healthcare providers, and get information about evidence-based treatment options.
If at any time you have questions about medical errors and your health or legal rights, contact The Dixon Firm to speak with one of our Atlanta personal injury attorneys.