Medical errors are one of the biggest killers in the United States. More people die from preventable medical mistakes than die in car accidents each year. In fact, medical mistakes are the number three cause of death, following heart disease and cancer. The number is alarming but it’s best to go into any medical treatment situation armed with as much knowledge as possible so that you can be your own advocate. So, let’s take a look at some of the top medical mistakes that health care providers make.
The most common type of medical error is a misdiagnosis where the diagnosis is incorrect, missed, or delayed. Experts believe that a misdiagnosis occurs in 10-20% of cases and a 2009 report found that 28% of these mistakes were life threatening or resulted in death or permanent disability. Shockingly, this number hasn’t changed much in the last decade. In 2018, researchers from Johns Hopkins reported that an estimated 12 million people are misdiagnosed each year, with one in three errors leading to serious injury, death, or permanent disability.
Medication mistakes are also quite common, harming an estimated 1.5 million people each year and leading to $3.5 billion in additional medical costs to treat these errors. This doesn’t include lost wages and productivity. These numbers are even more alarming considering that most medication errors are preventable if procedures are followed to double check medications and coordinate patient care across providers.
A “never event” is a shocking medical mistake that should never happen. We’ve all heard horror stories of wrong limbs being amputated or doctors operating on the wrong patient. Other common “never events” include air bubbles in IV catheters, leading to a stroke; inserting food intended for a stomach tube going into a chest tube; leaving sponges, wipes, or medical instruments inside a person after surgery; and artificial insemination or IVF with the wrong sperm, egg, or embryo.
Most “never events” are very rare. For example, one study indicated that a typical hospital might experience a wrong site operation every five to 10 years. But when they do happen, they often lead to fatal or life-altering consequences. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported that 71% of “never events” were fatal and may indicate a fundamental safety problem within an organization.
Even physicians agree that many patients are overtreated or receive unnecessary treatments. The Institute of Medicine reported that unnecessary services account for an estimated $210 billion wasted on inefficient healthcare in the U.S. each year. While many physicians report that the fear of malpractice suits drives them to provide unnecessary treatment for patients, 71 percent of physiciansresponding to a Johns Hopkins study thought that doctors are more likely to perform unneeded procedures if they profit from them.
Unnecessary tests are extremely common. In Washington, researchers recently scoured insurance claims from 1.3 million patients. In a single year they found more than 600,000 people – nearly half – received a test they did not need at an estimated cost of $282 million. More than a third of the money spent went to unnecessary care. While many of these tests won’t cause harm to a patient, some aren’t without risks. For example, CT scans can increase your lifetime risk of cancer.
In today’s medical climate, it can be rare to have simply one physician coordinating all of a patient’s care across specialty providers and hospital visits. When you go to the hospital, you are much more likely to be treated by an attending physician rather than your personal physician. Unfortunately, coordinated care across all of these providers can be difficult, even in the age of electronic charts. A 2005 Johns Hopkins study indicated that some physicians feared increased liability for malpractice if they attempted to coordinate care for their patients across providers. But failing to provide that coordinated care is actually what increases the potential for medication, diagnosis, and treatment errors and this leads to increased liability for mistakes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, on any given day, one in 31 patients will have a healthcare-associated infection. This adds up to 1.7 million hospital-acquired infections every year. These infections can include surgical site infections, pneumonia, urinary infections from catheters, and bloodstream infections from IVs. Many of these infections are antibiotic resistant and can be deadly. The CDC estimates that 100,000 deaths occur from healthcare-acquired infections every year.
Every year more than 500,000 people fall while in the hospital. About 30% of these falls result in injury, with 4-6% causing serious injury. The elderly, those who need assistance to walk, and those taking certain medications such as sedatives, hypnotics, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines are at highest risk for falls in the hospital. Many of these can be avoided by making the environment safe, increasing observation, establishing assisted toilet routines, and implementing medication assessments.
Studies show that one in five Medicare patients ends up back in the hospital within 30 days after they are originally discharged. This can happen when a patient is discharged too quickly; if medications are mixed up, or not prescribed; if discharge instructions are unclear or are not adequately explained to patients and their caregivers; and if follow up care doesn’t happen in a timely manner.
If you believe you or a loved one have been harmed by a medical mistake, call us today. The knowledgeable malpractice attorneys at the Underwood Law Office can help. Our McKinney, Texas law firm serves all of Dallas and Fort Worth, including McKinney, Frisco, Plano and Allen. Our Huntington, West Virginia attorney office serves all of West Virginia.
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