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What Are Examples of Medical Errors?

You may hear the term “medical malpractice” on TV and in movies and generally understand what it is. However, until you have experienced a serious malpractice incident that causes serious injury and suffering, it is shocking to find out how common the problem is. Thousands of incidents of medical errors happen every day. It is helpful to understand examples of medical malpractice to know when you might be a victim. 

If something didn’t seem right when you or a loved one was in the hospital, you should listen to your intuition. If you are not sure if an injury was caused by a medical error, talk to a medical malpractice attorney for advice. A medical malpractice attorney can review your records and identify possible malpractice. Don’t wait any longer. Contact an experienced medical malpractice team for legal help. 

Medical Malpractice in the U.S.

According to a report by Johns Hopkins researchers, medical malpractice is the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S. Medical errors that kill patients account for more than 250,000 each year. The actual number is unknown but another study found an even higher number of annual malpractice-related deaths. The Journal of Patient Study estimated that preventable mistakes cause about 400,000 deaths per year.

Medical errors are among the 3rd or 4th leading causes of death in the U.S., depending on the year. Why is medical malpractice in the U.S. so common? There are a few reasons why medical malpractice often goes unchecked. Healthcare costs in the U.S. are among the highest in the developed world. Some medical errors occur because patients are undergoing unnecessary procedures with the medical industry and insurance companies getting rich in spite of the patient’s injuries. 

Top Causes of Medical Errors

Many medical injuries are caused by systemic problems in our healthcare systems. Medical care is often poorly coordinated, with fractured insurance networks. Lack of universal care means that many patients have to make treatment decisions based on cost instead of quality. Healthcare practice patterns vary widely and the dysfunction in healthcare often leads to a lack of accountability. 

The Joint Commission is a group that certifies hospitals and medical centers. The Joint Commission has reviewed causes of death in healthcare settings, including unexpected death or serious injury. A “sentinel event” is defined as “any unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof.” Common causes of sentinel event medical mistakes include: 

  • Surgical errors
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Medication mistakes
  • Device and equipment failure
  • Systems failures
  • Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs)
  • Falls
  • Healthcare technology failures

Patient’s do not always know when a medical injury was caused by a medical error or if it was just an accident. Doctors and hospitals are not always great at communicating with patients when they know there was an error. Instead, patients often have to take the proactive step of going through a medical malpractice lawyer to get the hospital to take their injuries seriously. 

Examples of Surgical Errors

A surgical error is any medical error that involves a surgical procedure. It is important to distinguish between a risk of surgery and a surgical medical malpractice error. There is always a risk of undergoing surgery. Surgery can be an invasive procedure and almost any surgery carries some inherent risk of injury or even death. However, when an injury is caused by the negligence of a doctor, anesthesiologist, or other healthcare worker, it may be medical malpractice.

According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), there are certain “never events” involving surgery. Never events are called that because they are never supposed to happen unless there was negligence or malpractice. Never events involving surgery include: 

  • Surgery performed on the wrong body part
  • Surgery performed on the wrong patient
  • Wrong surgical procedure on a patient
  • Retention of a foreign object in a patient after surgery or other procedure
  • Intraoperative or immediately post-operative death in a normal healthy patient

Wrong Site/Wrong Patient/Wrong Procedure Errors

Wrong procedure, wrong patient, and wrong site accidents seem almost impossible but they happen more than most patients know. These types of errors are possible during surgery when doctors and hospitals fail to follow proper procedures before surgery. Patients are often put under anesthesia before surgery and are not awake to tell the doctor, “you’re operating on the wrong leg.” 

Following proper procedures can eliminate this type of error but they continue to happen. Wrong site errors can happen during scheduling, pre-op/holding, or in the operating room (OR). They may be more common at hospitals and surgical centers with a dysfunctional organizational culture. To avoid these accidents, surgeons should take the following measures:

  • Make sure surgical documentation is complete and accurate
  • Use consistent site-marking
  • Use consistent time-out procedures
  • Take adequate verification steps involving multiple team members

Retention of Foreign Object Errors

Retaining a foreign object is another never event that is difficult to understand. How could a surgical team just leave behind a surgical item inside a patient’s body? When doctors and surgeons fail to follow proper surgical procedures, they can end up leaving behind scalpels, surgical sponges, gauze, or other surgical items. Proper protocols before and after surgery should make sure all items used in the surgery are accounted for, to prevent left-behind surgical injuries.

Examples of Diagnostic Errors

A medical diagnosis is central to medical care by a doctor. Doctors go through years of education and practical experience to properly review patient complaints and symptoms, medical histories, and other factors to diagnose a patient. When a doctor makes an incorrect diagnosis, delays the diagnosis, or misdiagnoses a patient, it can cause serious harm. 

According to research published in the journal Diagnosis, the majority of “high-severity cases” diagnostic errors involved cancers (37.8%), vascular events (22.5%), and infections (13.5%). Cancer is diagnosed using a combination of tools, including tissue sampling or biopsy. A doctor can misdiagnose cancer when biopsies are improperly handled by the doctor or lab. In some cases, a cancer diagnosis is never communicated to the patient. 

One of the most common types of cancer in women is breast cancer. In 2021, there were an estimated 281,000 new cases of breast cancer in the U.S., accounting for more than 43,000 deaths. Breast cancer is generally slow growing but delays in a diagnosis can leave the cancer to grow and spread to other tissue in the body, increasing the risk of harm.

The most commonly misdiagnosed cancer is lung cancer. Lung cancer accounts for more than a quarter of all cancer-related deaths in the U.S. Diagnosing lung cancer early can increase the chance for recovery. Late diagnosis after lung cancer has reached advanced stages will result in a much lower survival rate. Lung cancer can be diagnosed with a variety of tools, including x-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and biopsies. 

Examples of Medication Errors

There have been great advances in pharmacology. With proper medication regimens, many people can live longer and have a better quality of life. Unfortunately, medication errors can take away quality of life and can even be fatal. There are different ways a doctor or healthcare worker can seriously injure a patient because of a medication error, including: 

  • Failure to administer medicine on time
  • Improper dose
  • Dangerous drug combinations
  • Poorly organized medication schedules
  • Lack of proper hand-off communication
  • Improper documentation
  • Failing to follow up on the effects of a new medication
  • Failure to monitor patients

Patients may not know when a medication is causing serious harm because the damage can be internal, including causing damage to the liver or kidneys. Patients who are taking a combination of medications may not be able to identify which medication is causing the injury. Doctors should be responsible for properly prescribing drugs, administering medication, and monitoring patient health. 

According to a report by the Joint Commission, the simple step of properly organizing medication within a pharmacy can be key to reducing the chances of a medication error. This can minimize the risk of wrong product errors and wrong dosage forms. However, medication errors can happen in all types of settings, including the pharmacy, hospitals, and treatment centers. 

Examples of Hospital Acquired Infections

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are some of the most frustrating types of medical errors. A patient goes into the hospital for one condition and is infected by something simply because they went to the hospital. This is often a basis for people who refuse to go to the hospital because they are worried they will end up worse. 

Patients should be able to have confidence in their healthcare providers. With advanced medical technology and our understanding of infections, HAIs should not happen. Unfortunately, they are more common than most people know. Healthcare-related infections are having a detrimental effect on patients

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 25 U.S. hospital patients have been diagnosed with at least one HAI. These infections have caused medical complications resulting in about 1.7 million reported cases—claiming the lives of about 100,000 people per year.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the 5 most common HAIs in the U.S. are: 

  1. Pneumonia: 24.3%
  2. Surgical-site infection: 24.3%
  3. Gastrointestinal infection: 19%
  4. Urinary tract infection (UTI): 14.4%
  5. Primary bloodstream infections: 11.1%

Infections can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or other microorganisms. Some of the most common causes of infections in hospitals are caused by the following bacteria and viruses: 

Cases of pneumonia may be related to placing the patient on a ventilator during surgery or intensive care. Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) is an infection in the lungs in patients with a ventilator. The infection can be introduced through the ventilator tube and gets into the patient’s lungs. VAP often occurs when healthcare workers do not follow proper sanitation protocols and procedures. 

Surgical site infections (SSIs) can be traced directly to the surgical procedure where the infection occurs. The human body is very resilient at fighting off the common bacteria and viral microorganisms we come in contact with every day. However, as soon as the inside of the body is exposed, infections can be much more difficult to fight off. 

Surgery is supposed to involve very strict procedures and sanitary protocols. We are familiar with scrubbing up before a procedure from movies and TV shows, including extensive washing with soap, using sanitary personal protective equipment (PPE), and using sterilized surgical tools. Unfortunately, not all healthcare workers follow the proper protocols. 

The risk of getting an HAI increases with the more time you spend in a hospital and care intensity. Infections like UTIs may come from having a catheter inserted improperly or after improper sanitary procedures. A bloodstream infection may involve a central venous catheter (central line) that administers fluids through the patient’s veins. 

With catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs) and central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), the infections may be caused by something as simple as improper monitoring and unsanitary practices.

Was a Loved One a Victim of a Medical Error Injury?

Many injury victims do not come forward after a medical error just because they are not 100% sure that it qualifies as medical malpractice. You don’t need to be 100% sure before you reach out for help. Talk to a medical malpractice lawyer who understands medical malpractice cases and can help you identify whether you have a claim. 

Medical malpractice lawyers have years of experience reviewing medical records and talking to medical experts. With this experience, a top medical malpractice lawyer can identify deviations from the standards of care. Your attorney can also let you know more about your legal options and how much you might be able to recover in a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you were injured because of a medical error, you should not have to bear the costs when you did nothing wrong. 

Contact experienced trial attorneys who have successfully represented medical injury victims and their families. Your legal team can help you recover financial compensation from doctors, hospitals, and the insurance companies. For a free initial consultation, contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162.

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