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What Are the Most Common Types of Medical Malpractice?

Most people believe that medical errors are rare. Unfortunately, they are more common than people realize. As many as 1 in every 10 deaths in the U.S. are caused by a medical error. Many patients and their families never even find out that they were injured because of a medical mistake. Reporting medical errors and taking action against negligent doctors is important to reduce the risk of injury to others. 

A medical malpractice lawsuit allows injury victims to recover financial compensation from the negligent doctor. The money can help pay for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If you or a loved one were injured by medical malpractice, contact our experienced medical malpractice law firm for a free consultation. Contact our office today online or by phone at 800-529-6162.  

Ten Common Medical Errors

Medical malpractice may involve any type of error or omission. Malpractice can be caused by a doctor, health care worker, pharmacist, or hospital. Some of the most common types of medical malpractice include:

  1. Diagnostic Errors
  2. Surgical Errors
  3. Medication Errors
  4. Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs) 
  5. Falls and Hospital Injuries
  6. Anesthesia Errors
  7. Hand-Off Errors
  8. Lack of Informed Consent
  9. Birth Injuries
  10. Understaffing 

Medical Error Statistics in the U.S.

According to a study by Johns Hopkins published in the BMJ, medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The leading cause of death is heart disease, followed closely by cancer. Medical errors are the 3rd most common cause of death. As many as 10% of all U.S. deaths are due to medical errors. 

According to the researchers, ”most errors represent systemic problems, including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks, the absence or underuse of safety nets, and other protocols, in addition to unwarranted variation in physician practice patterns that lack accountability.”

The Joint Commission is a nonprofit organization that accredits health care organizations and hospitals. A study found over 400,000 hospitalized patients experience some type of preventable health harm every year. Medical errors included surgical, diagnostic, medication, devices and equipment, and systems failures, infections, falls, and healthcare technology. 

The most common malpractice claims in hospitals are related to surgical errors. The most claims for outpatient care are related to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. The Joint Commission defines a “sentinel event” as: “any unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof.” This includes any variation in a medical process that would carry a significant chance of a serious adverse outcome. 

Unknown Medical Errors

One of the problems with relying on statistical information is that the number of medical errors is likely far higher than the reported numbers. Many of the medical accidents are never reported as errors and some doctors and hospitals may even try to cover up negligent deaths or accidents. 

Even the Johns Hopkins study acknowledges the under-reporting problem. The CDC evaluates the most common causes of death in the United States. “The list is created using death certificates filled out by physicians, funeral directors, medical examiners, and coroners. However, a major limitation of the death certificate is that it relies on assigning an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code to the cause of death. As a result, causes of death not associated with an ICD code, such as human and system factors, are not captured.”

Diagnostic Errors

Diagnostic errors can include a misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or failure to diagnose. Patients rely on doctors to make a proper diagnosis, using the doctor’s training, diagnostic tools, and access to other specialists. If the doctor is not sure about the diagnosis, they should continue to review the patient or refer the patient to another doctor. Diagnostic errors can be fatal. Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions include: 

  • Myocardial infarction (MI)
  • Stroke
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Spinal epidural abscess
  • Necrotizing fasciitis
  • Testicular torsion
  • Meningitis
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage
  • Septicemia
  • Appendicitis
  • Fractures
  • Cancer

Cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States. More than 600,000 people die from cancer every year in the U.S. Failure to diagnose and treat cancer early on can lead to more difficult treatment and a lower overall success rate. Some of the most commonly misdiagnosed cancers include: 

  • Breast cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Skin cancer

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are some of the most common injuries in a hospital or in-patient facility. Many surgical errors are considered “never events.” A never event is a medical error that should never occur if the proper procedures are followed. However, never events occur relatively often. Surgical errors include:

A retained foreign object error occurs when a surgeon leaves behind a surgical object after surgery. There are between 4,500 and 6,000 cases of left-behind objects every year. Foreign objects left in a patient include: 

  • Needles 
  • Surgical sponges
  • Retractors
  • Scissors
  • Towels

Other surgical errors that should never occur include wrong patient surgeries. This can cause unnecessary surgery to a patient and permanent injury. For example, if a patient is supposed to have their left leg amputated for an infection but the doctor removes the right leg, the patient will have to undergo surgery again and will end up losing both legs. 

Medication Errors

Prescription medication errors are considered preventable events which can lead to serious injury, permanent brain damage, and death. Most patients do not have a lot of medical knowledge and have to rely on their doctors to prescribe the right medication. Patients also have to rely on a pharmacist to dispense the right medication. Medication errors can include: 

  • Deterioration of medication
  • Dispensing machines filled with the wrong product
  • Failure to pay attention to the product label
  • Improper drug storage
  • Medication misuse 
  • Adverse drug combinations
  • Wrong dose 
  • Wrong route
  • Wrong medication
  • Prescribing too many times per day
  • Patient monitoring errors

Medication errors can be another systemic problem when hospitals do not follow recommended procedures to prevent medication errors. Ways to reduce the risk of medication errors include: 

  • Electronic medical records
  • Barcoding systems
  • Standardized units of measure
  • Avoiding abbreviations
  • Avoiding confusing units of measure
  • Weight-based dosing
  • Pharmacist availability
  • Drug and dose review before administration
  • Storing look-alike medications separately

Hospital-Acquired Infections (HAIs) 

Hospital-acquired infections (HAI), also called healthcare-associated infections, are infections that are transmitted to a patient that the patient does not have at the time of admission. Infections can be viral, fungal, or bacterial. This can happen from exposure to sick people or unsanitary conditions. 

Healthcare-acquired infections are a leading cause of several medical error injuries. Some of the most common infections involve: 

  • Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
  • Central line-associated bloodstream infection
  • Surgical site infections

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, the most common HAIs are pneumonia and surgical-site infections. The top 10 HAI infections are as follows: 

  1. Pneumonia: 24.3%
  2. Surgical-site infection: 24.3%
  3. Gastrointestinal infection: 19%
  4. Urinary tract infection: 14.4%
  5. Primary bloodstream infections: 11.1%
  6. Eye, ear, nose, throat, or mouth infection: 6.2%
  7. Lower respiratory tract infection: 4.4%
  8. Skin and soft-tissue infection: 3.5%
  9. Cardiovascular system infection: 1.3%
  10. Bone and joint infection: 1.1%

Falls and Hospital Injuries

Slip and fall accidents can be dangerous. Even a fall from a short height can cause serious injury to the victim’s back, neck, or head. Older adults may be at risk for serious injuries caused by a broken hip. Unfortunately, falls in the hospital are a common cause of injury for patients who are seeking care for other conditions. Many hospital fall accidents are related to negligence by the hospital or hospital employees. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries for older adults. Medical facilities are supposed to take note of patients with a high fall risk. Factors that increase the risk of a fall injury include: 

  • Age 65 or older
  • History of fall events
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Incontinence
  • Vision problems
  • Certain medications
  • Balance problems
  • Post-anesthesia effects

If a hospital is aware of a problem with in-hospital injuries, the hospital may be liable for causing the medical injuries. The hospital is responsible to correct any medical errors, including implementing proper fall prevention measures. Fall prevention measures include:

  • Identify high fall risk patients  
  • Use bed alarms
  • Lower beds and lock bed wheels
  • Keep rooms clear and free of trip hazards
  • Make bedpans and urinals accessible for patients
  • Improve the nurse-to-patient ratio
  • Provide assistive devices
  • Communicate fall risk to staff, patients, and family members

Anesthesia Errors

Anesthesia is commonly used in surgical procedures. Anesthesia errors can be serious, leading to heart attack or death. Anesthesia uses powerful drugs that can stop the heart, lower the breathing rate, and cause the patient to go unconscious. However, the vast majority of anesthesia-related preventable incidents involved human error. Anesthesia errors include: 

  • Failure to properly monitor the patient’s vital signs
  • Too much anesthesia
  • Not enough anesthesia
  • Adverse drug interactions
  • Communication errors or hand-off errors
  • Intubation injuries

Hand-Off Errors

One of the systemic causes of medical malpractice involves improper hand-off procedures. When a patient is in the hospital receiving care, they may be seen by multiple doctors, nurses, assistants, and other providers. When a doctor goes off-duty, they generally need to make sure the next doctor taking over understands the status of the patients. This is the hand-off procedure. The minimum required information updates include:

  • Contact information
  • Patient allergies
  • Status of coding
  • Medication information
  • Lab testing data
  • Vital signs
  • Assessment of condition and severity
  • Plan of care summary

Poor communication during provider hand-off leads to medical malpractice accidents. One way to reduce errors during handing off patients is to develop techniques to remember checklists, including: 

  • I-PASS (Illness severity, Patient summary, Action lists, Situational awareness, and contingency planning, and Synthesis by the receiver)
  • SBAR (Situation, Background, Assessment, and Recommendation)

Lack of Informed Consent

In order for a patient to properly consent to medical care, they need to understand the risks involved. When a patient does not provide informed consent, the doctor may be liable for any injuries caused. Anytime a doctor performs a medical procedure, the patient should be given the necessary information, including: 

  • Risks of the procedure
  • Benefits of the treatment
  • Possible side-effects and complications
  • Reasonable alternatives
  • Consequences of declining care

The Joint Commission produced out a safety advisory identifying barriers to informed consent, including: 

  • A lack of basic information on the consent form
  • Ineffective provider-patient communication
  • Lack of shared decision-making between patient and provider
  • Lack of consideration of the health literacy of patients
  • Lack of consideration of cultural issues of patients

Birth Injuries

Birth injuries are tragic and can cause the loss of a child or long-term damage. If a baby is injured at birth, the parents and the child may have to live with the injury for the rest of their lives. Some of the most serious types of birth injuries involve some oxygen deprivation when the mother is pregnant, during labor, or after delivery. 

Oxygen is vital to brain function. Hypoxia that causes any delay in delivering oxygen to the brain and organs can result in brain damage or cell damage. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a permanent brain injury caused by the lack of oxygen, including lack of oxygen to newborns. This can result in physical disability, mental disability, and delayed development. In serious cases, it can result in permanent disability. 

Birth complications can involve injuries to the mother during pregnancy, health problems in utero, or problems during delivery. Birth injuries from extraction devices can also cause physical disability, such as shoulder dystocia. Other birth injury causes can include: 

Understaffing of Hospitals and Care Facilities

Health care is very expensive in the U.S. Many health care facilities are run with a focus on profits, even if it comes at the expense of safety. Hospitals and care facilities may try to cut costs by reducing staffing. Unfortunately, understaffing can be a common cause of medical errors. When a hospital is understaffed, they may not be able to properly check on patients or perform necessary medical procedures.

One of the most common types of medical injuries related to understaffing is bedsores. Bedsores are known as pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers. This is a common occurrence for immobile or bed-bound patients who have long periods with pressure on certain parts of the body. Bedsores are most common on the back, buttocks, or back of the legs. If not properly treated, these ulcers can cause infection and serious illness. 

Medical care standards generally require an immobile patient to be turned several times a day, to reduce the risk of developing an ulcer. Caregivers are also supposed to properly clean and dress any sores. When a care facility is understaffed, patients may be at a greater risk of developing ulcers and infections. In a survey of nursing home statistics, the CDC found around 159,000 nursing home residents in the United States suffered from some level of bedsores. This represents more than 10% of all nursing home residents. 

Answers About Your Medical Malpractice Claim

Many injury victims fail to come forward because they do not think they have a strong case. It is important to come forward to recover damages and hold the negligent parties responsible. Sometimes taking a doctor or hospital to court is the only way to make sure they make changes to improve patient safety. 

At Gilman & Bedigian, our experienced trial lawyers have helped our clients and their families recover millions of dollars in compensation after medical mistake injuries. We have years of experience serving injury victims and their families. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.

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