How You Can Prevent Medical Errors

Over the years, we’ve had many clients come to use with horrific stories of how medical errors have impacted their lives.

Today we’ll look at some common medical errors and provide you with a few simple steps you can take to help prevent them. We’ll also explain how to know if a medical error is serious enough to be malpractice.

What is a Medical Error?

Simply put, a medical error is any preventable mistake that can have a negative outcome.

Errors can happen at any and all phases of medical care. In our personal injury practice, we’ve helped clients who’ve received improper dosages of medicines, experienced surgical errors, or received misdiagnoses. Sometimes, it’s a doctor that’s made a mistake. Other times, it may be a faulty hospital system to blame. Often, there is a human element to blame (for instance, a breakdown in communication or tired, overworked staff).

Here are some things to keep in mind as we move through this topic:

  • Not all medical errors are the result of negligence. For instance, the doctor may not have complete information about a patient’s health because the patient has withheld it.
  • Not all medical errors cause harm. Not every mistake will result in serious injury to the patient. In fact, in some cases the patient isn’t even aware that an error has taken place!
  • Most medical errors are not the result of malintent. Most physicians abide by the oath “do no harm” and are working to provide the best care for their patients. But doctors are human and not immune to making mistakes.

What are Some Common Medical Errors?

While there are many different kinds of medical errors, here are some of the most common ones.

  • Medication errors. Sometimes patients receive the wrong dosage – or the wrong medication altogether.
  • Surgical errors. A surgeon may fail to provide critical pre-operative instructions. Or provide an unnecessary surgical procedure. Errors can happen with anyone involved in the surgery – including nurses and office staff.
  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis. When a doctor fails to give their patient the correct diagnosis – the result can be serious. The delay of correct care can mean a condition worsens, impacting a patient’s quality of life. Also, a patient with a misdiagnosis could suffer side effects from unnecessary treatment.
  • Improper treatment. Patients may receive medicines and surgeries that may be unnecessary for their condition. On the flip side, a patient might not receive enough care for their illness.
  • Hospital-transmitted infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in every 25 hospital patients contracts an infection. Often, such infections could be prevented through hand-washing or other standard, preventative measures.

Of course, there are many other types of medical errors we’ve not included. But these examples illustrate the many different ways errors can happen when it comes to receiving medical care.

Why Are Medical Errors Under-Reported?

One glaring problem is understanding exactly how many medical errors happen each year. One popular John Hopkins’ study suggests that medical errors kill over 250,000 people each year, making it the third-leading cause of death in the US. This study has its critics, who find those numbers to be sensationalizedSo, who’s right?

Part of the problem is that there is no clear way to collect data about medical errors. Death certificates only allow one cause of death to be listed. Suppose a patient died because his nurse administered an accidental overdose of medication. The official cause of death might be listed as “coronary failure.” See the problem?

Inflating the numbers can make people’s trust in their health care providers decline. But more needs to be done to report these errors and explore what’s causing them.

How Can Patients Prevent Medical Errors?

As a patient, you need to be your own health advocate. This doesn’t mean you need to walk around with a deep-seated skepticism of all doctors. Nor does it mean you should expect errors to occur.

Here are a few things you can do to reduce your chance of being a victim of a medical error:

  • Bring a family member or friend to key appointments.
  • Make sure to verify all medicines and dosages match your doctor’s prescription.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and clarify what you’ve heard. If you do not understand, ask to have the information repeated in a different way.
  • When dealing with a diagnosis, make sure to get a second (and even third!) opinion.
  • Leave the doctor’s office with clear care instructions after your surgery or procedure. Know what number to call if concerns arise.

Above all, remember to take charge in all aspects of your health care.

When is a Medical Error Medical Malpractice?

How can you know if the error is serious enough to consider a malpractice claim?

In general, these three elements must be present in order for you to have a malpractice claim:

  1. Proof of negligence. Do you have proof that the provider was negligent? Did he or she fail to meet the standard of care others in his or her field would have given?
  2. Causation of harm. You or your lawyer will need to show that the provider’s negligence resulted in your harm. This could be emotional and/or physical.
  3. Proof of damages. Even if you can prove the first two items, you must show how the negligence resulted in damages. Examples of damages include lost wages, decrease in quality of life, or medical debt.

Medical malpractices lawsuits are often complicated, and labor intensive to pursue. We recommend the advice of a trusted medical malpractice lawyer for these situations.

Need some help to determine if you’ve experienced a medical error or malpractice? We can help you. We’d be happy to discuss your case at no cost. Call the Ladenburg Law Injury Attorneys today. 

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