We put our trust and faith in doctors and other medical professionals to properly diagnose, treat, and cure our illnesses, injuries, and diseases. When medical professionals and facilities make errors, they commit medical malpractice. This medical malpractice then leads to further illness, injury, or even death. In fact, hospital errors account for tens of thousands of needless deaths in the United States each year, making medical malpractice the third leading cause of death according to a recent Johns Hopkins study on medical errors. Unfortunately, medical error statistics are not readily available and those that are available often underestimate hospital error, deaths, and injuries, making the Johns Hopkins study an important resource for everyone.
Below, we dig a little deeper into the Johns Hopkins study on medical errors, as well as additional research, to provide guidance on exactly what to look for when receiving medical care. You deserve the best care possible without painful or deadly results. Additionally, if you have recently lost a loved one who was under the care of a physician, a deeper understanding of the types of medical errors can help you evaluate whether your loved one died as a result of medical malpractice.
During the last several years, Baylor University and Johns Hopkins have reported diagnostic errors as the most common and costly type of medical error, impacting more than 12 million patients each year across the United States.
Diagnostic errors include when doctors fail to diagnose illness or disease in a patient, or when they misdiagnose the patient. When a doctor fails to properly diagnose a patient, the patient doesn’t receive the treatment they need, resulting in severe illness or death.
Prescription Medication Errors
Patients can suffer medication errors for many reasons. For example, a doctor can misdiagnose a patient and therefore prescribe the wrong medication for treatment or a doctor can properly diagnose a patient but prescribe the wrong amount of medication for a particular illness or disease. Additionally, data entry also leads to many prescription medication errors. Patients used to have to worry about a doctor’s messy writing on the prescription pad. Today, medication errors occur when a doctor makes a typing error as they enter the prescription into the computer.
While the improper administration and application of anesthesia errors is a type of medication error that falls under medical malpractice, it deserves special treatment. When specialists make mistakes in the administration and application of anesthesia, the consequences are painful at best. Fortunately, anesthesia errors aren’t as common as other errors. A recent study reports that about 1 out of every 200 patients falls victim to the improper administration of anesthesia. Examples of specific scenarios that lead to errors include:
- Wrong dosage
- Wrong drug
- Inexperienced anesthesiologist
- Poorly labeled syringes
- Unlabeled syringes
- Improper use of medication pump
- Failure to take a complete medical history and learn of patients’ allergies
Surgical Items Left Inside the Body
Many medical errors, especially those that are deadly and contribute to medical error statistics, are related to surgery. Surgical leftovers are near the top of the list of surgical errors. No matter how well-trained the surgeons, doctors, and nurses who operate are, they still succumb to human error. Surgery requires many tools and sometimes a surgeon negligently closes a patient without removing the tools. Examples of items that can wind up left in surgical bodies are sponges, gauze, cotton swabs, retractors, electrodes, sponges, and drains. Surgical leftovers are not only potentially fatal, but the only way to remove them is by forcing a patient to undergo another surgery. Additionally, patients can suffer unexplained, excruciating pain and not realize the medical error until months later.
Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, Wrong-Person Surgeries
Imagine you must have a kidney or a breast removed and the surgeon removes the wrong one. These wrong-site surgeries are extreme surgical errors that often result in death. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), which is a division of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, states that wrong-site surgeries occur because of a breakdown in communication among hospital staff. In other words, medical professionals who prepare patients for surgery and the surgical teams who actually perform the surgery do not always communicate with one another in an efficient and accurate way. Wrong-site, wrong-person, and wrong-procedure errors rarely happen but the discipline has had to change to ensure they never happen. All medical professionals are required to follow Universal Protocol—standardized guidelines to best practices in healthcare settings. Universal Protocol has updated its standards to require a break before surgery for those in the operating room to ensure accuracy.
Intravenous Device Errors
Those who need surgery—whether it is preplanned or in an emergency typically must have an intravenous (IV) device put into their body, most often in the hand or arm. Removing or inserting an IV can create air embolisms when not done correctly. Air embolisms are small air bubbles that enter the blood. A doctor or nurse can cause an embolism in many ways, including failing to adequately prime the IV tube, failing to check that air does not go back into the vein, or accidentally cutting or slicing the tubing and creating holes. Patients who suffer air embolisms often experience pain, but they can also die.
Unneeded Procedures and Surgeries
Doctors and scientists in the United States have spent more than three decades warning the discipline and patients about unneeded surgeries and procedures. Yet, today patients continue to undergo such procedures even when they are not the best choice for their condition. Researchers argue that doctors and surgeons fail to keep informed of the most recent medical research, especially as it pertains to new and less invasive procedures, leading to patients having outdated surgeries and procedures they do not need. Examples from a recent study include knee and spinal fusion surgeries for repairing the meniscus. Several clinical trials have shown that spinal fusion does not improve a patient’s knee in the long-term, especially when compared to non-surgical treatments like physical therapy and exercise. Yet, spinal fusions and knee surgeries are still among the most common procedures worldwide.
If you have suffered an injury or lost a loved one as a result of medical error, contact a skilled medical malpractice attorney as soon as possible.