These are the Most Common Medical Errors

For patients who trust doctors with their lives (literally), it can be scary to know that medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Medical errors cause more than 250,000 people every year, according to a 2016 study by Johns Hopkins

Of course, the risk of medical error should not be the reason that you fail to seek necessary medical treatment. You must be able to arm yourself with the knowledge you need. Know that these are some of the most common kinds of preventable medical mistakes. 

1. Medication Error

Administering a single medication requires between thirty and forty distinct steps. Each step increases the risk for error. Errors in medication are one of the most common medical errors in hospitals. 

Some medication errors include: 

  • Prescribing or administering the wrong dosage
  • Failing to identify adverse drug interactions
  • Storing drugs improperly
  • Failing to prescribe medication known to help a patient with a certain illness

All medication errors can have significant adverse effects on a patient. Medical professionals must be aware of a patient’s medical history, allergies, and current medications.  

2. Diagnostic Error

Diagnostic error is the failure to determine a timely and accurate cause of a patient’s problem(s) or the failure to communicate the cause to the patient. Diagnostic error occurs when a diagnosis is late, wrong, or missed entirely. They are the most common medical errors reported by patients.

  • Delayed diagnosis.  A delayed diagnosis is pretty self-explanatory. It should have been made earlier. 
  • Misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis is the failure to accurately determine an explanation for the patient’s problem. The original diagnosis is determined to be inaccurate once the true cause is discovered. 

Some conditions are more commonly misdiagnosed than others. Doctors are taught to diagnose based on what is most common first, which works well if the patient has the common malady. Otherwise, the diagnosis can lengthen a patient’s pain and can lead to unnecessary or even harmful treatment. 

  • Missed diagnosis. A missed diagnosis is one in which a patient’s medical problems are not ever explained. 

If you have experienced a diagnostic error that caused harm, you may have a claim for medical malpractice

3. Infection

As the name suggests, hospital-acquired infections happen while a patient is being treated for another condition at a doctor’s office or hospital.  An estimated 1.7 million patients suffer a hospital-acquired infection each year and they are one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. 

Hospital-acquired infections cause direct harm to patients and increase the risk of death. Some common hospital-acquired infections include:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Surgical site infections
  • Lung infections (pneumonia)
  • Bloodstream infections (sepsis)

It is not possible to avoid all risk of infection in a hospital setting. However, many hospital-acquired infections are caused by poor infection control in hospitals, including improper handwashing. 

4. Bad Medical Devices

Even if a medical provider does everything properly, they cannot protect their patients from defective medical devices or defective drugs. The doctor is not to blame in these cases. The manufacturer of the defective devices are liable for the damage. 

It is possible that any medical tools with moving parts or electrical connections could be defective. However, many devices without moving parts or electrical connections have been found to be defective. Some medical devices that have been subject to claims of defect include:

Any medical device has the potential to be defective if it harms the patient even though it is used in the manner it was intended to be used. 

Protect Yourself From Medical Error

The potential for medical error should never discourage you from getting the medical care you need. Most medical mistakes are preventable and many are harmless. 

To protect yourself, you or a trusted person should always be an active participant in your medical care. Communicate all medications you take to your healthcare providers and make sure your doctor knows about allergies or reactions you have had to medicines in the past. 

If a provider comes into your treatment or hospital room to give you care, pay attention to whether they wash their hands. Should they attempt to begin inserting an IV or other medical device without having washed their hands, ask them to do so. 

If you can, choose to have a procedure at a hospital where it is performed a lot. Research has shown that the best outcomes result when the provider has performed a procedure more. 

With the knowledge you need, you can protect yourself from most medical errors.