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Medical Errors Lead to More Than a Quarter of a Million Deaths Annually


When sick or injured, we often trust medical professionals to take good care of us. Unfortunately, even the most experienced doctor, nurse or medical practitioner can make mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes are negligible; other times they are devastating.

The Institute of Medicine reports that medical errors are responsible for an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 deaths in hospitals every year. These errors are not connected to the patient’s disease or illness, but are the result of a mistake that occurs during medical treatment. These errors can include administration of the wrong medication, forgetting to wash hands before providing care or surgical mistakes.

There are many factors that can contribute to an increase in medical errors. A study by the National Institute of Health found that extended-duration work shifts were connected to an increased risk of significant medical errors, while another found a potential connection between an increased rate of errors and the arrival of new medical residents in July. Regardless of the cause, there are many steps that patients can take to help reduce the risk of injury from a medical error.

Tips to Avoiding Medical Errors for You and Your Loved Ones

The first step is to communicate with all medical providers. Patients should inform all doctors involved of any medications, dietary supplements or over the counter drugs that are currently in use.

It may also help to bring these medications to doctor’s appointments. This practice, referred to as “brown bagging” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, helps to facilitate conversations about potential interactions and aids the doctor in updating records and providing quality care.

If a patient is required to stay in the hospital, it’s important to make sure the doctors, nurses and other professionals wash their hands prior to examining the patient. This is an important step to avoiding unnecessary secondary infections during hospital stays.

One of the most dangerous infections a patient can get while staying in a hospital is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, more commonly referred to as MRSA. The bacteria is spread through skin to skin contact, and more severe, life-threatening cases of this infection occur frequently in health care settings.

It is also a good idea to take the time to learn about any diagnosis or scheduled treatments. Local libraries are full of reputable resources, and the Internet provides an easy way to learn more by visiting sites like those offered by the National Institutes of Health, WebMD and many others.

Additional tips include:

  • Ask for clarification if directions from the pharmacist or doctor are confusing
  • Double check with the pharmacist if the medication given is the one prescribed
  • Have a primary care doctor coordinate all forms of care a patient will receive
  • Make sure the staff checks the entire name of the patient before proceeding with any tests to ensure that they are not treating the wrong patient with a similar name

Although these steps can help patients to take ownership over their medical care, mistakes can still happen. And if a medical professional makes a mistake they may be liable for any injury that results.

Medical Professionals May Be Liable for Medical Errors

Mistakes involving the practice of medicine can lead to devastating consequences. Unlike most professions, mistakes made by doctors and medical staff members can result in disease and injury to the patients they treat. In fact, an American Medical Association study found six out of every 10 physicians over the age of 55 have been sued for causing injuries.

Within the various medical specialties, the study found general surgeons and obstetricians had the highest rate of malpractice, while pediatricians and psychiatrists were less likely to be sued.

Overall, liability can be established if a patient proves:

  • Health care professional owed a duty to the patient, such as doctor/patient relationship
  • Standard of care was not followed, and the health care professional breached this duty
  • The breach of the duty led to an injury
  • The patient was injured

If these elements are established, a doctor or medical professional will likely be guilty of negligence. This often requires testimony from an expert with similar qualifications of the accused physician to establish what standard of care was violated.

This type of case can extend to many situations. If you or a loved one is the victim of medical error, compensation may be available to cover medical and rehabilitative expenses, as well as pain and suffering. However, each situation is unique. As a result, it is important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your options, rights and remedies under the law.

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