5 Deadly Medical Errors and how to Avoid Them


Recent reports indicate that medical and hospital errors are now considered “as the No. 3 killer in the U.S.,” that claims over 400,000 lives in a year. To make mistakes is only human. But if that mistake is made by doctors, nurses or anyone else in the medical field, it can not only be costly but also be lethal to the patient.

The 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine called “To Err Is Human” has already proved how a medical mistake contributes to the death of patients. It indicated that almost 98,000 people die in a year because of medical errors. And the number continues to rise, despite all the developments and advancements happening in the medical community.
Recent reports indicate that medical and hospital errors are now considered “as the No. 3 killer in the U.S.,” that claims over 400,000 lives in a year. In fact, medical errors and mistakes is only third to heart disease and cancer in the country. Moreover, it also costs the country a colossal amount of around $1 trillion a year. And it is not just the number of people dying due to medical errors which is staggeringly large, an alarming number of serious complications cases are also resulting from medical errors every day. The Institute of Medicine reports that more than 1.5 million people in the country sustain injuries and pain due to a medical mistake.
While it is almost impossible to eradicate medical errors altogether, there are certain things healthcare professionals can do to reduce the risk of making a mistake. The patients and their families too need to be diligent. But before getting there, it is important to identify the medical errors that can be fatal.
Medical and Hospital Mistakes That Can Kill You
The statistics we have discussed so far is undoubtedly shocking. In order to prevent these mistakes, you need to first have a clear idea of the most common medical errors and why they occur. The following are the 5 most common errors that are often preventable:
1. Misdiagnosis
This is the most common medical error. A misdiagnosis can have a mild to severe effect on the patient, ranging from delay in treatment to wrong treatment that often lead to deadly consequences.
2. Medication Mistakes
A report from NCBI indicates that more than 60 percent of patients who are hospitalized miss their regular medication there. This is especially common with patients who are over 65 years old. It also suggests that each patient omit 6.8 medications on average. Besides, patients are often subjected to wrong medications, which again has deadly consequences. A 2006 Institute of Medicine report found that 1.5 million Americans become victims of medication mistakes every year, costing $3.5 billion to the medical community.
Medication errors not only include omitting prescribed medicines or giving the wrong medication, it also involves giving an incorrect dosage. In addition, it is important to check drug interactions when you are giving several medications to a patient to ensure that they are not causing any adverse effect.
3. Uncoordinated Care
Today things are much different than what it was earlier. There was a time when you were most likely to be treated by “your” doctor when admitted to the hospital. But in this changing healthcare system, chances are that you will be addressed by the ‘doctor on call’ instead of your regular doctor. This isn’t necessarily wrong, especially during emergencies. But things really become rough if there is no coordination between the doctors and other healthcare specialists.
You are perhaps allergic to certain medications or maybe you have seen several specialists and their prescribed medications interfere with each other. Although such confusion and medical errors often seem minor, they can have really severe consequences at times.
4. Malfunctioning Medical Devices
Talk to a medical error and mistakes attorney and you will be surprized to know the number of injured patients filing lawsuits against medical device manufacturers alleging faulty products. Flawed medical devices can cause serious issues. Imagine the hip implants stop working, defibrillators don’t shock or maybe the pacemaker wires break. These devices are meant to save and improve lives. But not all of them are as effective and safe as others and often cause debilitating injuries to patients, changing their lives forever.
5. Cross Contamination
According to the Centers for Disease Control, “1 in 25 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection.” The CDC survey also found that there were around 722,000 healthcare-associated infection (HAI) cases in the U.S. hospitals in 2011. These infections include urinary infections from catheters, pneumonias, gastrointestinal illness, surgical site infections, primary bloodstream infections and other types of infections. Some of the bacteria found in these infections are resistant to most antibiotics and therefore can be deadly. They are especially lethal to patients with weakened immune systems.
Why They Occur and How to Prevent Them
While most healthcare professionals do the best job they can, mistakes happens due to several reasons. For example, hospital infections are often transmitted from one patient to another by the caregivers, especially when sterile techniques are not used properly. Hospital workers don’t do it purposely, but perhaps it was their negligence that caused the error.
But there are ways to prevent these medical mistakes. For example, to prevent medication mistakes most healthcare facilities are now scanning patient wristbands as well as medications before giving any drug. This has reduced errors to an extent, although mistakes still occur. This often happen due to inattention to detail, fatigue, inexperience or miscommunication.
The good news is they are all preventable, if you are diligent enough. If the healthcare professional thinks that his/her workload id too much to manage safely and effectively, the best option is to speak with your supervisor than committing medical error due to inattention to detail. Also, instead of rushing through things, try to prioritize your tasks.
Similarly, if you are working between long hours and overnight shifts, fatigue can set in. Try to combat it by getting proper rest before your shift. Take small breaks and fresh air in between work to stay attentive and mentally sharp. In case, you are in doubt always check things out and clarify things you aren’t sure of.
As said, it is really difficult to prevent medical errors but there are ways to reduce the likelihood of making mistakes on the job. Following hospital policies and protocols, using closed loop communication and being diligent are just some of the ways to decrease the risk of medical errors and there are many others. But in case there has been a mistake, instead of trying to cover it up, report it immediately to the concerned person. Covering a mistake harms the patients as well as your reputation, not to mention it may even cost you your job.

Image copyright: sisssou, flickr CC-BY

Article last time updated on 04.12.2015.

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