Which Errors in Healthcare Lead to Injury and Death?

According to the World Health Organization, the risk of patient death occurring due to preventable medical errors[1] while receiving health care is about one in 300. Nearly half of the errors in healthcare are considered preventable.

According to a recent study by Johns Hopkins, more than 250,000 people in the United States die every year because of medical errors, making it the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.[2] Medical errors include transfusion errors, adverse drug events; wrong-site surgeries, surgical injuries; restraint-related injuries, hospital-acquired infections, treatment-related infections, and falls, burns, and pressure ulcers.

What is a Medical Error?

A medical error is a preventable adverse effect of medical care, whether or not it causes harm to the patient. Intensive care units, operating rooms, and emergency departments tend to have the highest medical error rates. The National Institutes of Health says that medical errors tend to be associated with extremes of age, new procedures, urgency, and the severity of the medical condition being treated.

The most common medical errors in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, are: adverse drug events, catheter-associated urinary tract infection, central line-associated bloodstream infection, injury from falls and immobility, adverse obstetrical events, pressure ulcers, surgical site infections, venous thrombosis (blood clots), and ventilator-associated pneumonia.

Medical Errors

What Medical Errors are Most Common?

The most common errors in healthcare include:

  • Medication errors – Though it’s the most common type of medical error, medication mistakes are also the most preventable. This includes the misinterpretation of prescription abbreviations and instructions, sometimes due to poor handwriting.
  • Infection – While hospitals are expected to be clean and sanitized, hospital-acquired infections such as catheter-associated urinary tract infections, surgical site infections, bloodstream infections, pneumonia, and clostridium difficile, are a big risk to patients receiving medical treatments or surgery in the hospital.
  • Poor communication – Miscommunications between healthcare facilities and providers, and between patients and providers often leads to errors in healthcare.

Other medical errors include:

  • Drug interactions – There are a number of interactions, including drug to drug interactions and drug to diet interactions, that can make taking prescribed medications dangerous for a patient. Doctors should know these interactions and navigate around them. Failing to do so puts patients at risk.
  • IV mistakes – One of the most common medical errors in hospitals involves intravenous medications, including problems with the line itself, and incorrect dosages.
  • Equipment errors – Equipment like anesthetic machines, x-ray machines, and defibrillators can malfunction, sometimes for simple reasons like dead batteries.

medical errors

What Are the Main Causes of Most Medical Errors?

Miscommunications are the most common causes of errors in healthcare. Whether verbal or written, miscommunication can occur between physicians, nurses, patients, or other health care providers.

Addition Causes of Medical Errors include:

  • Inadequate Information Flow. When necessary information does not follow a patient who is transferred to a new facility.
  • Human Problems. Medical errors, like poor documentation and labeling of specimens, are made by human beings. When standards of care, policies, processes, or procedures are not followed properly by staff, it can lead to medical errors.
  • Patient-Related Issues. Issues like inappropriate patient identification, inadequate patient assessment, failure to obtain consent, and insufficient patient education fall under this category.
  • Organizational Knowledge. Put simply, these issues can include insufficient training and education health care providers.
  • Staffing Patterns and Workflow. Understaffing can put healthcare workers in a position where they are more likely to make mistakes.
  • Technical Failures. The failure of medical devices, such as implants, grafts, or other medical equipment can lead to undesirable outcomes.

Most Medical Errors

How Can You Protect Yourself From Medical Errors?

To protect yourself from medical errors:

  • Become an active member of your healthcare team. The most important thing you can do to prevent medical errors is to get involved in your care. Don’t assume everyone on your medical team has all of your information!
  • Tell your medical team about your medication history, including your current medications and dosages (including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements), and drug allergies.
  • To avoid infection, keep an eye on everyone caring for you and make sure that they wash their hands and wear clean gloves.
  • Before a medication is administered, confirm that it is the correct medication and dosage.
  • Choose a hospital with a high safety rating, where you will be more likely to have good outcomes without medical errors.

If you think you have experienced a medical error, Carpey Law can help. We are experienced medical malpractice lawyers in the Philadelphia area. Give us a call.
Contact Attorney Stuart A. Carpey at 610-8340-6030, or email him at scarpey@carpeylaw.com.

Updated April, 2020.

[1] Who/G “10 facts on patient safety”, WHO.int
Updated August 2019, https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/patient_safety/en/

[2] Allen, Marshal, and Piarce, Olga. “Medical Errors Are No. 3 Cause Of U.S Deaths, Researchers Say”, www.npr.org, May 3, 2016, 6:31 PM ET. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/03/476636183/death-certificates-undercount-toll-of-medical-errors

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