According to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. How is it possible that with all the advanced technology and modern medical training that medical errors are still so common? It is not only doctors making mistakes. Hospitals, nurses, drug manufacturers, and medical device companies can also cause patient injuries through negligence.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are important because they help victims recover money and they hold negligent doctors and hospitals responsible for their actions. People who lost a loved one due to a medical error can contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to find out about their rights and make sure their loved one did not die in vain. Injury victims can recover compensation to pay for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
A medical malpractice award cannot erase the pain, scars, and losses caused by a doctor’s negligence. However, malpractice awards can make doctors, hospitals, and the healthcare industry take safety more seriously, and may reduce the risk of future injuries for other patients. If you have a question about whether your injuries were caused by malpractice, talk to a medical malpractice lawyer about your legal options.
How Common Is Medical Malpractice in Healthcare?
In 2016, the BMJ published a study by Johns Hopkins researchers about the extent of medical malpractice in the U.S. Causes of death are categorized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), using an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code. However, there are limitations to the code categories that do not list causes of death by medical mistakes. Researchers analyzed medical error data to compare it to the commonly listed causes of death in the U.S.
Analyzing medical data for an 8-year period, the researchers calculated more than 250,000 deaths in the U.S. each year are caused by medical errors. This would make medical mistakes the 3rd leading cause of death, behind heart disease and cancer. According to the CDC, the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020 was heart disease, with more than 696,000. Cancer accounted for more than 600,000 deaths in 2020.
At 250,000 medical malpractice deaths per year, other causes of death that fall behind the estimated number of medical mistakes include:
- Accidents: over 200,000
- Stroke: over 160,000
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: over 152,000
- Alzheimer’s disease: over 134,000
- Diabetes: over 102,000
The researchers did note that most medical errors were not caused by “inherently bad doctors.” instead, most errors represent systemic problems in health care, which can include:
- Poorly coordinated care
- Fragmented insurance networks
- The absence of safety nets
- Unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns
- Lack of accountability
One of the problems with tracking medical malpractice is that there is a lack of transparency. Hospitals don’t keep track of every time a doctor makes a mistake. Neither do state medical boards. The medical malpractice insurance industry has an interest in tracking incidents of medical negligence because it costs them money. Any estimates of medical malpractice may be underrepresented because doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and the healthcare industry don’t want to expose themselves to liability.
Medical Malpractice Causing Serious Injury
The estimated 250,000 deaths caused by medical errors only accounts for fatal mistakes. Millions more patients may suffer injuries that are not fatal, ranging from minor mistakes with little damage to permanent disability. According to a study by the Joint Commission, approximately 400,000 hospital patients experience some type of preventable harm each year.
Some medical mistakes may have no serious consequences but may leave a patient more distrustful of the healthcare system. Other mistakes can have serious and lifelong consequences. Patients may be unable to walk, unable to return to work, or face a lifetime of chronic pain.
Some of the most tragic injuries caused by medical errors are birth injuries. Parents with a child who suffered serious injury during pregnancy, delivery, or after delivery may have to bear the burden of a lifetime of medical care, mental disabilities, and physical disfigurement. Some birth injuries will require around-the-clock care for the rest of the child’s life.
The Joint Commission defines “sentinel events” as “any unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof.” Sentinel event medical errors include:
- Devices and equipment
- Systems failures
- Healthcare technology
Most patients think of the errors that occur in hospital settings. However, more than half of paid medical malpractice claims are related to outpatient care. One of the most common causes of malpractice claims for outpatient care is related to missed diagnosis or late diagnosis. A common cause of hospital-related malpractice claims is surgical errors. Another cause for increased medical errors is related to reduced nursing staff, which hospitals and health care facilities target to decrease overhead.
What Are the Most Common Causes of Medical Malpractice in the U.S.?
Medical mistakes can occur in just about any area of healthcare, from medication errors to birth injuries. Some areas of healthcare are more commonly associated with medical errors, and some types of errors can be more serious. Top causes of medical malpractice in the U.S. include:
- Surgical errors
- Diagnostic errors
- Medication errors
- Hospital-associated infections (HAIs)
- Defective medical devices
- Healthcare system failures
- Hospital falls
- Healthcare technology errors
Surgery is a serious procedure and should not be taken lightly by patients or doctors. Invasive surgery involves cutting the patient open to operate inside the body. While surgery may be common and surgeons are involved in multiple surgeries a day, there are always risks associated with surgery. Risks that are difficult to eliminate in surgery include infection.
The human body is great at protecting against bacteria, viruses, and fungus outside the body. However, when it is introduced inside the body, it can be much more difficult to fight. This is why sterility in the surgical environment is so important. Common bacteria that float around on surfaces and in the air that pose no threat to a person may become deadly when it gets inside the human body.
One of the common causes of surgical errors is infection. Infection can be caused by hospital-associated infections (HAIs), lack of proper sterilization procedures, and improper tool sterilization. With proper surgical processes in place, infection should not be an issue. However, as with other areas of modern healthcare, doctors and hospitals are cutting corners to save money, which can put patients at risk.
Infection is not the only risk associated with surgery. Other common problems that lead to medical malpractice claims include:
- Foreign objects left behind in the patient’s body
- Wrong side surgical error
- Wrong-site surgical error
- Incision location errors
- Nerve damage
- Anesthesia errors
- Wrong patient surgery
- Lack of informed consent
Some of these errors are known in hospitals as “never events.” A never-event is something that is never supposed to happen and only happens when something goes wrong. According to the Patient Safety Network, 71% of never events reported to the Joint Commission over the past 12 years were fatal. A 2013 study found that never events happen more than 4,000 times per year.
Most never events, including left-behind objects, wrong-site surgery, and wrong-patient surgery are avoidable when doctors and healthcare workers follow proper protocols. This can include simple checklists and verification to account for the patient, surgery type, and surgical location. Following basic procedures can help thousands of patients avoid unnecessary and devastating injuries.
One of the primary roles of doctors is to properly diagnose patients. Doctors often begin with a differential diagnosis based on the patient’s complaints, medical history, and lab test results. The doctor can narrow down the possible cause of the patient’s injuries or illness until they reach a likely diagnosis. A proper diagnosis can be the starting point for treating the patient.
Unfortunately, doctors who fail to listen to patients or doctors who fail to properly review tests and records can come to the wrong conclusion. This can lead to a misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose. Misdiagnosis can cause two types of problems, in unnecessary treatment and delayed treatment.
For example, take a patient who is suffering from stomach cancer. If a doctor misdiagnosed the patient and diagnosed the patient as having Crohn’s disease, the doctor may prescribe steroids and immunosuppressants. This could cause problems by giving the patient unnecessary medicine that may do more harm. In addition, the patient could go weeks or months before the correct diagnosis is made, which could reduce the chances for recovery.
Cancer diagnostic errors can be some of the most harmful because many cancers have a much better chance of treatment and recovery when they are diagnosed early on. Cancer diagnosis delays can allow cancer to metastasize and spread, making treatment more difficult and reducing the chance of recovery. Other commonly misdiagnosed conditions include:
- Myocardial infarction (MI)
- Pulmonary embolism
Diagnostic errors can be frustrating for patients seeking professional medical care. Patients often suspect that their doctor made the wrong diagnosis but are reluctant to challenge the doctor or get a second opinion. Many insurance companies make it difficult for patients to get a second opinion without having to pay out a lot of extra money. This can limit options for patients even after they believe their doctor is wrong.
Medication errors can cause serious injury or death. Patients generally rely on the medical training and experience of doctors and pharmacists to prescribe the right medication in the right dosage. Medication errors can occur at home, in the pharmacy, or in perioperative settings. In some cases, the patient may not be aware they were given the wrong drugs or the wrong dosage. Types of medication errors that cause medical malpractice include:
- Wrong drugs
- Wrong dosage
- Wrong route of administration
- Wrong frequency
- Defective medication
- Contaminated drugs
- Lack of patient monitoring
- Drug name confusion
Even bad handwriting has been to blame for serious medical injuries. Lazy handwriting on drug orders or medical records can cause confusion for other doctors, patients, nurses, and pharmacists. According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP), there are common error-prone abbreviations, symbols, and dose designations that should never be used when communicating medical information.
Hospitals are supposed to be safe centers of modern medical care. Unfortunately, some patients show up to the hospital and leave with an infection they did not have when they entered. Healthcare-acquired infections involve contracting an infection in a healthcare setting, including a hospital, nursing home, or medical clinic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2015 there were approximately 687,000 infections developed in patients in acute care centers in the U.S., leading to approximately 72,000 deaths. On any given day, about 1 out of 31 hospital patients has a healthcare-associated infection.
HAIs do not have to happen. Many hospital infections are caused by improper sanitary procedures, cutting corners, understaffing, and failure to follow sterilization protocols. These infections can be serious and even life-threatening. The CDC has categorized the types of healthcare-associated infections as:
- Central Line-associated Bloodstream Infections
- Catheter-associated Urinary Tract Infections
- Surgical Site Infections
- Ventilator-associated Pneumonia
If you or a loved one became infected during a hospital stay, you may be able to recover compensation for your losses. Contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to understand your rights and hold the hospital accountable for their actions.
When to Call an Attorney for Help
Medical malpractice injuries do not have to happen. Medical mistakes cause patients and their families unnecessary pain and suffering and can cost patients tens of thousands of dollars. Doctors and hospitals should be held accountable for their mistakes, instead of innocent patients having to bear the costs of a medical error. A medical malpractice lawsuit may be the best way for you to recover damages and improve medical care for other patients.
If you were injured because of a suspected medical mistake, you may have the right to recover money for medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering. Our attorneys have extensive experience in medical malpractice claims because they focus on just these types of cases. With the right legal team on your side, you will have the resources to help you recover damages after a medical injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.