The 10 Most Common Medical Errors

It might surprise you to learn that medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in United States, according to a study by Johns Hopkins. Healthcare professionals are generally professional, dedicated, and caring people, but humans make mistakes. Making their job harder is the for-profit system of healthcare in the United States, in which the goal of ever-higher profits is often at odds with providing quality care. Under-training, understaffing, and other penny-pinching measures lead to preventable injuries and deaths. Here are the 10 most common.

  1. Failure to order, perform, or act on lab tests
    Errors during essential laboratory tests can greatly affect the way treatment is delivered, often with devastating results. Sometimes, the proper test is not ordered. Other times, the test is administered improperly or the way the results are read is incorrect. Sometimes the testing is done properly, and yet the logical course of action is never taken. Any of these medical malpractice errors can result in preventable injury or death for the patient.
  2. Applying the wrong treatment
    In medical circles there is an established protocol to avoid an WSPE, which is an acronym that refers to a Wrong Side (or Site), Wrong Patient, or Wrong Procedure Error. Poor communication or haste can lead to doctors operating on the wrong side (e.g, removing the wrong kidney) or area of the body (e.g., operating on the wrong part of the spine), performing a scheduled procedure on the wrong patient, or performing the wrong procedure. These are called “never events,” meaning that they should never happen and are always considered medical malpractice.
  3. Incorrect medications prescribed
    According to a report by the CRICO insurance program, a division of the Harvard Medical Institutions, Inc., one of every nine medical malpractice cases is related to a medical error. Even worse, 38% of these errors are fatal (compared to 18% of the rest of medical malpractice). Medicinal errors can mean the wrong medication is ordered or given or the wrong dosage. It can also occur when the medicine is prescribed or given without considering the patient’s allergies or contradictions with other medications. It can also refer to situations where the patient is not made aware of the medication’s side effects.
  4. Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
    A late diagnosis or misdiagnosis of a medical condition, can result in preventable injury or death. When the doctor or hospital fails to properly diagnose an issue that should have been identified and the patient’s condition becomes worse due to the wrong treatment, late treatment, or no treatment at all, it becomes medical malpractice. An example would be a situation in which a doctor identifies a lump and diagnoses it as benign, when it is actually malignant, and a serious cancer is allowed to develop.
  5. Prematurely discharging the patient
    When a patient is released before they are ready, and there are problems at home that can only be properly handled at a hospital, it results in a case of medical malpractice. In some cases, the doctor makes an error in judging the recovering patient’s condition when the patient is released. In other situations, the hospital is releasing at-risk patients in an unsafe timeframe because the hospital is busy or simply trying to increase profitability.
  6. Botched surgery
    Many things can go wrong during surgery, and if the established standard of care is not rigorously followed, the patient can have a serious injury, which can result in death. In some cases, the injury is cosmetic, such as scarring, which can mean permanent disfiguration. Botched surgeries can also have life-threatening consequences, such as serious infection, organ damage, and nerve damage. It can also result in circulatory system issues, such as internal bleeding, hematomas, and dangerous blood clots (i.e., DVTs).
  7. Unnecessary operations
    With any surgery, there is risk, and physicians must weigh the benefits versus that risk, often in consultation with a well informed patient. Subjecting a person to the risks associated with a surgery that is not recommended for the situation is a serious form of medical malpractice, and it’s more common than you might think. According to an article in the USA Today, “unnecessary surgeries might account for 10% to 20% of all operations in some specialties, including a wide range of cardiac procedures — not only stents, but also angioplasty and pacemaker implants — as well as many spinal surgeries.”
  8. Items left inside the patient during surgery
    During surgery, objects can be left inside the patient, inhibiting the healing process of the original health issue or creating a new and serious problem. Called “retained objects” in the medical profession, these items have included medical tools, such as clamps, but more frequently, they are small sponges or absorbent pads used to control bleeding. Retained objects are one of the profession’s “never events,” meaning there is never an excuse for it. Every object, to the smallest sponge, should be counted before and after surgery to avoid misplacing them and jeopardizing the health of the patient.
  9. Failing to check on the patient
    Failure to follow up with a patient can be a form of medical malpractice. Of course, the patient has a duty to show up for appointments, take any medications as directed, and follow medical advice. Failure to follow up can become negligence if there is not timely communication from the doctor or healthcare facility (e.g., hospital or doctor’s office) with the patient, regarding appointments, instructions, questions about the patient’s well being, test results, and other information. This type of failure to follow up, can occur in the hospital or after the patient has been released.
  10. Ignoring patient’s symptoms or concerns
    Healthcare professionals have a duty to listen to their patients. Although it is common for people to report ailments that are less serious than they might seem, the physician must take patient claims seriously and investigate the symptoms and concerns. There is a standard of care in which health issues can be ruled out, but only if the physician is paying attention to the patient.

Is the Care You Received Considered Malpractice?

Every error made by a doctor is not malpractice. There must be specific criteria met. The care you received must be below the standard of care that another doctor in the same area of practice would have provided in a similar situation. To determine if your medical treatment failed to meet the medical standard of care, call (410) 698-1717 for a free case evaluation or click here.

Scissors inside of a body
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