Medical Errors

In the United States, medical errors are one of the leading causes of injury and death. Studies and reports have shown that it is estimated that anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 people die, due to medical mistakes in U.S. hospitals every year. Based on this information, less people die from AIDS, cancer or motor vehicle accidents than people who die from medical errors.

What is a Medical Error?

A medical error is exactly what it sounds like. When something that was a part of a patients treatment doesn’t work as intended or when the treatment plan was incorrect altogether that is called a medical error. These errors can happen in any part of the health care system:

  • Hospitals
  • Patients’ Homes
  • Pharmacies
  • Doctor Offices
  • Outpatient Surgery
  • Clinics
  • Nursing Homes

These errors can come from many sources as well:

  • Medicines
  • Lab Reports
  • Diagnosis
  • Surgery
  • Equipment failure
  • Prescriptions

Even the most seemingly simple and routine things can be the cause of a medical error. If a patient is given a meal that is high in salt when they are on a salt free diet is a perfect example of a medical mistake.

As with any system, the more complex it is, the more likely a mistake is to happen. Modern day medical systems and hospitals are extremely complex and huge in scope. This allows for the possibility of mistakes to rise sharply as there are so many factors involved even in the diet of a patient. Doctors are often spread out so thin over a large number of patients and the long hours they tend to work, confusion, mistaking one patient for another and mistake in general are bound to happen.

How Can You Help Prevent Mistakes?

The first thing that you can do, as a patient, is very simple; ask questions constantly. Whenever something is being done to or for you, ask about it and have the caregiver describe what they are doing at all times. This will not only keep you well informed, it will also force the care giver to be overly aware of what they are doing for you at all times. Normally, when someone has to describe what they are doing, as they are doing it, they are more attentive to their actions as they have to think at every step.

When prescribed a medicine, ask the doctor for more information about the drug. Find out the side effects of the medicine, what are the benefits of it, with what medicines does it work well with and what medicines should not be taken with it. Ask them about possible allergic reactions and what you should do in case one of them happens to you. This will help to ensure you are not being prescribed something that may interact negatively with any other medication you are currently taking.

A simple thing you can do to avoid medical mistakes from happening to you involves a little planning but can really pay off in the long run. If you are taking multiple prescription drugs at the same time, always carry a list of those medicines. Make sure to have the name of the drug, the dosage and the frequency of the dosage. Present this list to your doctor whenever a new prescription is being written out to ensure that you aren’t being prescribed something will hurt you in conjunction with other medications you are currently taking.

When the doctor is explaining your condition and how the treatment will play out, be sure to ask any question you can think of during this time. Many medical mistakes happen outside of the presence of the care provider due to the patient not fully understanding their role in their own recovery.

One important thing to remember, especially if you are in a state where your judgment may be impaired due to illness, treatment or even unconsciousness, that you have someone there who is designated to make decisions on your behalf. This is especially true if you are with a doctor who does not know you or your medical history. The doctor won’t know you are allergic to a certain medicine or if you are diabetic or anything else at all about you. A close friend or family member will and they will be able to offer the best assistance in that case.

Medical Errors Happen, Doctor’s Are Only Human

While this is very true, a medical error can lead to death. The best thing that any patient can do in any medical situation in order to help prevent a medical error from happening is to give voice to the questions in their minds. Speak up and ask. The more in depth questions asked by the patient, the more likely a medical error will be avoided.