Everyone makes mistakes. However, mistakes made by a doctor or other health professional can have life-changing or even life-ending consequences for a patient. Each year in the U.S., medical errors result in the deaths of around 200,000 people. By some estimates, millions more suffer an injury resulting from a medical error, making mistakes by healthcare professionals a major contributor to preventable deaths and injuries around the nation.
If you were injured as the result of a medical error, then you may have the right to take legal action seeking significant compensation for your injuries and losses. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today for a free case evaluation.
11 Common Medical Errors
Americans trust doctors to treat injuries and illnesses with care and skill. Unfortunately, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers make mistakes. Some of those errors reflect a severe failure to deliver a minimum standard of care to patients. We call those errors medical malpractice.
Common errors by healthcare workers leading to cases of medical malpractice include:
- Medication errors: Of all the mistakes that can be made in the medical realm, medication errors are the most common, accounting for 1.5 million injuries in the U.S. each year and at least $3.5 billion in societal costs. At least 400,000 drug-related injuries are incurred each year in hospitals, along with 800,000 occurring in long-term care facilities and another 530,000 just among Medicare recipients in outpatient clinics. Approximately one-quarter of these errors are attributed to similarly named drugs and one-third of the errors involve issues with the medication’s packaging and labeling. Other common mistakes leading to a medication error involve failing to ensure that the medication prescribed does not react badly with other medications that the patient is already taking, telling the patient to take the prescription during the wrong time of day, prescribing an improper dose of the medication, failing to ensure that the patient is not allergic to the medication before prescribing, and improperly transcribing the prescription.
- Unnecessary blood transfusions: The transfusion of red blood cells is one of the most common procedures performed in U.S. hospitals. However, studies indicate that more than half of these procedures are not the appropriate treatment for the ailment that has been presented. The more blood cells a patient receives, the higher his or her risk is for developing a life-threatening infection.
- Too much oxygen: Premature babies often are born with underdeveloped lungs and a need for supplemental oxygen. The amount of oxygen the baby receives is relative to his or her weight. Too much oxygen can cause health issues, including blindness.
- Healthcare-associated infections: People go to the hospital to get better. However, it is estimated that—at any given time—one in every 25 Americans is suffering from a healthcare-associated infection. Healthcare-associated infections can occur in any type of health care setting, including hospitals, surgical centers, clinics, and long-term care facilities. The causes of infections include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other lesser-known pathogens.
- Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis: Another common time for errors to occur in a health care setting is during diagnosis. Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis occur because of a variety of factors, including the provider misreading lab results, failing to take an adequate patient history, or failing to recognize the symptoms that would have indicated the correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, some of the most serious medical conditions are also among the most commonly misdiagnosed. Those conditions particularly susceptible to misdiagnosis include stroke, heart attack, spinal epidural abscess, pulmonary embolism, necrotizing fasciitis, meningitis, testicular torsion, subarachnoid hemorrhage, septicemia, lung cancer, fractures, and appendicitis.
- Patient mix up: While it seems inconceivable, medical errors often result from the wrong chart being provided for the wrong patient. In fact, this type of error can lead to a patient undergoing a surgery that was actually intended for someone else. leading to an horrendous surgical error.
- Failing to obtain informed patient consent: Health care providers are required by law to explain procedures to patients, including the risks, benefits, and alternative options. Failing to provide the patient with information about the procedure and performing the procedure without consent can result in provider liability if the patient suffers unwanted consequences from it.
- Failing to provide the patient with adequate after-care instructions: Often, upon discharge from a hospital, patients receive information about how to care for a medical condition at home. Failing to provide the patient with adequate instructions can constitute medical error leading to serious health complications.
- Surgical errors: Surgical errors are also, unfortunately, not as uncommon as one might think. Surgical errors can include performing an operation on the wrong body part, leaving surgical implements inside a patient’s body, or performing a surgical technique improperly, resulting in severed nerves or blood vessels (among other complications).
- Faulty medical devices: Sometimes the medical error doesn’t involve the health care provider at all. The doctor can perform a surgery to insert a medical device perfectly, but if the device malfunctions, death or injury can still occur. This type of medical error often results in a different sort of legal claim known as product liability, which the lawyer for the patient may make against the medical device manufacturer.
- Birth injuries: Birth injuries are a major type of medical error and can result in a lifetime of disability for, or death of, a newborn. Common causes of birth injuries include failure to monitor, detect, and treat maternal infections, failure to perform an emergency cesarean section when indicated, failure to identify and treat a prolapsed umbilical cord, and misuse of birth extraction tools such as forceps or vacuum.
These are merely some examples. Virtually any wrongful action by a healthcare professional can result in serious, even fatal, injury. Speak with an experienced medical malpractice lawyer today about any injury suffered in connection with receiving medical care.
What Providers Can Do to Prevent Medical Errors
There are many ways that medical errors occur, but there are also many steps health care providers can take to reduce the risk of making a medical mistake that causes harm to a patient.
Common preventive measures include:
- Sending prescriptions electronically to reduce the risk of the pharmacist misreading a handwritten prescription.
- Ensuring that all staff who treat patients receive proper training.
- Performing all diagnostic testing needed to diagnose the patient’s condition.
- Providing adequate staffing for a given healthcare setting, to ensure each patient receives quality treatment. Inadequate staffing stretches providers thin and commonly leads to a wide variety of preventable medical errors.
- Practicing clear, thorough, and accurate communication between members of a medical team, and prioritizing organized, accurate record-keeping.
- Overall maintain a healthy lifestyle so that when an urgent medical danger emerges there is less complications for the medical staff. This would be applicable to those who potentially suffered due to ER mistakes.
A medical provider’s failure to take these and other steps to prevent medical errors can reflect a tendency to deliver a substandard level of care. Speak with an experienced medical malpractice attorney today if your medical provider failed to take the steps above to prevent your injury.
Preventing Medical Errors as a Patient
While preventing medical errors mostly depends on the efforts of the medical community, patients can also take steps to prevent dangerous errors from taking place, including:
- Make sure every doctor you see knows about every medication you are taking, including prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines, and dietary supplements.
- Bring your medications and supplements to your doctor’s appointments so that you and your doctor can discuss them and how they may be affecting you, how they may interact with other medications you take or that your doctor wants to prescribe, or whether there is something that will work better to treat your condition.
- Make sure your doctor knows about any medication allergies you have.
- Ask your doctor to provide information on any medicines you take in terms that you can understand. The information you should know about medications you take includes what condition the medication treats, how much medicine to take and for how long to take it, any likely side effects, and if there are any activities you should avoid while taking the medication.
- Avoid chewing non-chewable pills. Not every medication works as intended when it is cut, crushed, or chewed.
- Ask your pharmacist for the best dosing device when taking liquid medication. The best dosing device is not a spoon from your silverware drawer, and using one will likely cause you to take the wrong amount of medication.
- Always double-check the prescription you receive from the pharmacist to ensure that it is the same one that the doctor ordered.
- If you are in the hospital, insist that all providers who will be examining you wash their hands first. That requirement, while it may seem rude, is completely reasonable; failure to wash hands when dealing with patients is a leading cause of healthcare-associated infection.
- Be sure your doctor explains your home treatment plan in language you understand before you leave the hospital, including instructions about medicines you took before the procedure and whether you need to continue taking them.
- Speak up if you have questions or concerns about the care you receive.
- Ask a family member or friend to attend your appointments with you. Having an advocate on your side can help to ensure you ask necessary questions and that you receive thorough, understandable answers.
- If you doubt the quality of your medical care or the legitimacy of the diagnosis you have received, get a second opinion. This is not a matter of being disloyal to your primary care provider, it’s a matter of protecting your health and even your life.
A final word on preventing medical errors: It is estimated that around 80 percent of medical bills contain at least one error, and that error is generally not in favor of the patient. Be sure to check your bills carefully to avoid paying for procedures and care that you did not receive. While billing errors are not likely to result in injury, they could result in harm to your finances.
Injuries Due to a Medical Error?
If you have been injured due to a medical error, personal injury laws allow for you to recover injury-related expenses as well as compensation for the impacts that the medical error had on your life.
To succeed in a legal action for medical malpractice, your lawyer must show:
- You had a doctor-patient relationship with the professional who provided your treatment.
- The provider failed to meet the standard of care that would be provided by a reasonably prudent health care provider in the same situation.
- The failure to provide this standard of care resulted in harm to you, including expenses and life impacts.
Patients with valid medical malpractice claims can expect to recover both economic and non-economic damages.
- Economic damages are out-of-pocket expenses that you incurred as a result of the injury, such as medical expenses for treatment of the injury and lost wages due to being too injured to work or being required to miss work to attend an injury-related medical appointment.
- Non-economic damages refer to the impacts that the injury has had on your life. This type of damage can include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of the enjoyment of life.
Claimants in medical malpractice cases in Pennsylvania generally must obtain a written statement from a medical professional with experience in the same medical field as the provider who made the error, certifying the validity of the claim. In most cases, a lawsuit must be filed within two years after the injury occurred to be eligible for compensation through the courts.
However, exceptions are allowed in cases where the injured individual did not discover the harm for at least two years after the error, the injured individual was a minor at the time when the error occurred, or the medical provider concealed evidence of the error.
In other words, it takes legal skill and experience to prepare and pursue medical malpractice claims. If a medical error has left you or a loved one injured, then contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney today for a free case evaluation.
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1500 John F. Kennedy Blvd,
Two Penn Center, Suite 620
Philadelphia, PA 19102