Most Common Medical Errors: What Patients Need To Know

Every day, millions of people in the United States seek medical attention. We all plan to enter the healthcare setting ill and come out on the other side feeling better. Sadly, that is not always how the medical process works out.

There are an estimated 200,000 preventable deaths every year in U.S. hospitals, and 20 times that amount of injuries. These medical errors cost around $19.5 billion each year as personal injury lawyers are dedicated to pursuing compensation for those injured at no fault of their own. What is more concerning than the numbers themselves is the fact that these injuries and deaths are considered to be caused by preventable medical errors.

Preventing medical errors

Most Common Medical Errors

For patients, it is important to know what the most common medical errors are, and how to avoid being a statistic.

1. Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose

Misdiagnosis is often considered the most common medical error resulting in injury or death. Healthcare providers are required to conduct tests and a thorough examination in order to determine what is ailing the patient. Test results must be properly interpreted, and treatment ordered in a timely manner. Improperly diagnosing a patient, or failing to do so, can lead to a delay in diagnosis and treatment, which can be devastating if not fatal.

2. Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are a horrifying example of medical errors. These errors are considered “never events” because they should never happen. Unfortunately, they do. Some of the most common surgical errors include:

  • Surgery performed on the wrong patient
  • Surgery performed on the wrong body part
  • Retained objects (surgical items are left behind inside the patient)
  • Failing to properly monitor vital signs
  • Anesthesia errors

Some more startling examples of surgical errors that have been reported in recent years include:

  • Doctors that have left the operating room during a procedure.
  • Surgical centers that are not equipped or staffed to handle emergencies.
  • A surgeon who was supposed to remove a tumor, who instead removed the wrong side of a patient’s vulva.
  • A surgeon who confused similar last names and performed cardiac surgery on a patient who didn’t need it.

The patients who experienced these surgical errors had devastating outcomes requiring additional medical care and steep related expenses. Add to that the emotional trauma of such a horrific experience and surgical errors are among the most terrifying type of medical error.

3. Healthcare-Associated Infections

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) are one of the most common and preventable medical errors. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that one out of 25 patients develop an infection. The CDC has also estimated that as many as 722,000 people develop HAIs each year, and around 75,000 die from infections.

Some of the most common causes of HAIs include:

  • Surgical site infections
  • Catheters (urinary and central line)
  • Improper sanitation during injections
  • Improperly cleaned medical devices and equipment
  • Improper use of antibiotics

Most of these infections could be prevented by healthcare providers and staff following infection control procedures.

Medical malpractice lawsuit

4. Medication Errors

According to research, around 60 percent of patients in hospitals report missing doses of their regular medication. Many other patients report believing that they have been given the wrong medication. Most patients (90 percent) wish that they had better access to hospital medication lists to ensure accuracy.

Every year, around 1.5 million Americans are injured due to medication errors. These errors include a variety of unfortunate events, such as:

  • Prescribing or administering the wrong medication
  • Prescribing or administering the wrong dosage
  • Combining medications that are contraindicated
  • Causing injury while administering medication via syringe or IV

Errors can also occur during manufacturing. Drug manufacturers are required to abide by certain safety and health guidelines. When they distribute drugs that are defective or contaminated, or fail to provide warnings and facts to healthcare providers, patients are put at risk.

Similarly, pharmacists must ensure that they have the appropriate information about drugs they are handling and prescribing. They must also pass important information along to patients, including warnings, risks of side effects, and any medications or foods that may impact side effects or effectiveness.

5. Excessive Blood Transfusions

Blood transfusions are common in U.S. hospitals, but in a 2011 study, researchers discovered that almost 60 percent of transfusions studied were “inappropriate”. Blood transfusions, especially when not medically necessary, increase the risk of complications, infection, disease, and death.

6. Discharge Errors

Research has shown that as many as one in every five patients released from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days of discharge. These cases are often related to how discharge is managed. If discharge is done in a chaotic way, patients may leave the hospital without necessary instructions or follow up information.

There are also cases where patients have been discharged too soon. If serious healthcare issues are not fully resolved, then sending a patient home too soon could cause further complications or put their lives at risk.