Medical researchers haven’t spent a lot of time and resources studying the frequency of medical errors in the U.S., but some research has been completed. A recent study from Johns Hopkins University reports medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States, surpassing all causes listed by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), except heart disease and cancer. In addition to fatalities, medical errors cause injury to somewhere between two and four million people in the U.S. each year.
We trust doctors and other medical professionals to diagnose, treat, and cure our ailments and disease, and they have a legal obligation to do so. When they make mistakes, not only does it constitute medical malpractice, but it results in injury or death for many. This blog delves into the specifics of potentially debilitating or fatal medical errors, none of which are mutually exclusive. An understanding of these errors can help you know what to look for and make sure you get the care you deserve without suffering painful or life-threatening consequences.
According to Baylor University College of Medicine, diagnostic errors remain the most common type of medical error, affecting about 12 million patients across the United States each year. Doctors might fail to diagnose illness or disease in a patient, or they might misdiagnose the patient. When the wrong diagnosis occurs, patients don’t get the treatment they need, resulting in severe illness or death.
A medication error might occur for a variety of different reasons. It can stem from a misdiagnosis, causing a doctor to prescribe the wrong medication, or it might be a dosage error where the doctor prescribes too little or too much of the right medication for a condition. Another common cause of medication errors is data entry. When filling prescriptions, patients only used to worry about whether the pharmacist could interpret their doctor’s (most likely) horrendous handwriting. Today, patients have to worry that the doctor didn’t make a transcription error or click the wrong circle or box when they entered a prescription in the computer. Regardless of the specifics, medication errors are serious and can be deadly.
Improper IV Insertion or Removal
When you go to the hospital for an emergency or a planned inpatient or outpatient procedure, it’s likely you will have to have an intravenous (IV) device put into your body at some point. When doctors or nurses start or remove an IV, they can create air embolisms, which are small bubbles of air that enter the blood, by nicking the tubing with sharp objects or scissors, by failing to properly prime the tubing, or by failing to make sure air isn’t sucked back into the vein. When improper IV insertion or removal causes air embolisms, patients might experience severe pain and injury, or even death.
An anesthesia error is a type of medication error, but severe consequences and its relation to surgery warrant special treatment. Some surgical patients fear waking up in the middle of surgery and feeling enormous amounts of pain. Although this rarely happens, a recent study found that drug administration errors do occur in one out of each 211 patients.
Anesthesia errors include administering the wrong dosage, substituting different drugs, inexperienced anesthesiologists, unlabeled syringes, poorly labeled syringes, and improper use of the pump used to administer the medication. Failure to learn about a patient’s allergies also has led to anesthesia errors when doctors give patients drugs which cause them a severe allergic reaction.
Wrong Site Operations
You head to the hospital to get ready to have your left kidney removed, but the surgeon removes your right kidney instead. This is a wrong site operation; not only are these an extreme medical error, but they can be deadly. Medical experts report that surgeons make these kinds of errors because of communication breakdowns between surgical teams and preoperative preparation teams; the road which leads to wrong site operations starts long before a patient is in an operating room.
Although these cases are rare, they have happened enough throughout the practice to change procedure. Medical professionals, including surgeons, rely on standards and best practices called the Universal Protocol. Additions to these standards now require surgical teams to take a mandatory break prior to surgery to ensure they are operating on the right site.
Medical researchers and physicians in the United States have warned of the threat of unneeded procedures for at least the last thirty years. Yet, patients still undergo many unneeded surgeries, even when it isn’t in their best interest. Those who study surgeries argue that medical professionals are lax when it comes to keeping abreast of the newest and least invasive procedures, resulting in their patients having unneeded procedures.
Examples from a recent study include knee and spinal fusion surgeries. Several clinical trials have shown that spinal fusion does not improve a patient in the long-term the way physical therapy and exercise do. In the case of knee surgery to repair the meniscus, long-term results don’t differ from those who have had a placebo procedure. Yet, surgeons continue to put their patients at risk in surgeries without any long-term benefits.
Retained Surgical Bodies
Simple human error remains one of the biggest dangers for those who must undergo surgery. Surgeons and doctors and nurses who assist use a wide array of tools to perform surgery. On occasion, the surgeon closes up a patient without removing tools, resulting in a retained surgical body inside of a patient. Some examples of surgical leftovers include surgical sponges, cotton swabs, clamps, retractors, electrodes, and drains.
Retained surgical bodies can threaten the lives of patients and often require another surgery to remove the leftover item(s). The worst thing about surgical leftovers is that a patient might suffer symptoms and pain and have no idea why it’s happening. Sometimes, patients don’t discover the error until months or years after their initial surgery.
If you suffered an injury due to a medical error, a medical malpractice lawyer can help answer any further questions you have and point you toward your next steps.