Medical Errors Now Third Leading Cause of Death in the United States

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A patient is admitted to the hospital to have a failing kidney removed. During the operation, however, the medical team becomes confused and removes the patient’s good kidney instead.
Another patient is required to take a certain prescription that is known to cause adverse reactions in patients who also take certain other prescription medications. The hospital’s nursing staff fails to deliver this dangerous prescription to the proper patient, and the patient to whom the medication is given suffers a deadly complication as a result.
Think these scenarios are far-fetched? Not according to a recent report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University.
According to the report, medical errors account for over 250,000 deaths in the United States each year. While heart disease and cancer remain the number one and number two (respectively) causes of death in America, medical errors now account for more deaths than respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, accidents, and stroke (amongst other causes).

Common Types of Medical Errors

Medical errors are not confined to hospitals: A medical error can occur at your primary care physician’s office, at the pharmacy, or in a nursing home. Wherever one or more medical professionals are providing care to patients, a medical error is capable of being committed. Common types of medical errors include:

  • Botched surgeries (wrong organ removed, wrong body part operated on, or foreign object left inside patient);
  • Medication errors (patient is administered the wrong medication, the right medication in the wrong dosage, or a medication that adversely interacts with the patient);
  • Failure to diagnose (patient suffers from an ailment but doctors either fail to diagnose the ailment or doctors diagnose the patient with the wrong ailment);
  • Failure to follow protocols (for example, a doctor who fails to order a routine test that would be warranted based upon the patient’s symptoms, or a nurse or medical assistant who fails to check a patient’s vitals regularly as required by hospital or nursing home protocols); and
  • Failure to render aid (doctors and medical staff who are caring for patients in a hospital or nursing home setting may owe a higher duty of care to the patients or residents and may be required to render emergency aid if necessary).

These and other types of medical errors can be devastating to a patient and the patient’s family. Medical errors can easily exacerbate the patient’s condition or cause additional disorders with which the patient must contend. In certain extreme cases, a medical error can reduce a patient’s chances of surviving a surgery or procedure – or even result in the patient’s death. Any one of these scenarios can cause extreme pain and suffering to the patient, significantly increase the patient’s treatment costs, and/or cause additional financial and emotional struggles for the patient’s family.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Medical Errors?

Unfortunately, because medical professionals are human and prone to making mistakes, there is no way to prevent all medical errors from happening. However, proactive patients can take steps to reduce the likelihood that they will be the victim of a serious medical error:

  • Be an active participant in your own care. This means engaging your doctor in a dialogue about your health on a regular basis. Tell your doctor about your aches, pains, and concerns, and listen to your doctor’s explanations and prescriptions. Ask questions if you do not understand what your doctor is recommending. Make notes about what procedures or surgeries are discussed and make sure when you are undergoing a surgery that you speak to your surgeon first about what is going to take place.
  • Keep a list of your current medications. When picking up your prescriptions, make sure that the prescriptions you are given matches the prescription you are supposed to take. Before starting a new medication, speak to your doctor and/or pharmacist about your other medications and ask whether the new medication can cause any adverse side effects or complications with any of the other medications you are taking.
  • Provide timely feedback to your doctor. There may be more than one way of treating your condition or managing your illness. However, your doctor will not know which method to use unless he or she receives timely feedback from you regarding the effectiveness of your treatment plan. Keep follow-up appointments with your doctor as scheduled and be honest about your symptoms. If you feel that a particular treatment method is not yielding the results you had hoped to see, discuss this concern with your doctor. If you have questions or concerns about how a medication is making you feel, speak up and say something to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Do not be afraid to find a new doctor. Many medical errors are the result of poor communication between the doctor and other medical professionals. If you witness poor communication in your doctor’s office – for instance, if it seems that the nursing staff does not talk regularly with the doctor or that your nurse seems to be the only one who knows what is going on – discuss your concerns with your doctor. If you are not satisfied that he or she is capable of communicating effectively with you and/or his or her staff, consider finding a doctor who can.

These same tips hold true for nursing homes as well. However, family members may have to step up and become more active in the care and treatment of their loved one in a nursing facility if the loved one is unable to care for him- or herself or make treatment decisions on his or her own behalf.

How a South Carolina Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help

If you or a loved one have been injured by a medical professional or nursing home staff member, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and losses. These types of cases are notoriously complex, however, so you should first have your case evaluated by the experienced personal injury team at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. We will help you understand your rights and take decisive action following an injury caused by a medical or nursing home professional. Contact our South Carolina personal injury lawyer for assistance with your case by either calling our office or contacting us online.


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