12 Most Common Medical Errors (And How to Prevent Them)

According to the National Academy of Sciences, medical errors injure millions of people each year and cost billions of dollars annually in increased health costs. And this does not take into account lost wages or productivity costs. If that isn’t frightening enough, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement estimates that more than 238,000 hospital deaths among Medicare patients between 2004 and 2006 were due to medical errors that could have been prevented.

With healthcare reform front and center in political discussions, but little coming from it, patients are left to rely on their overworked physicians and other caregivers for reliable services. To best avoid becoming part of the statistics, become part of the solutions by knowing the 12 most common medical errors and how to prevent them.

    1. Medication Errors : The most common of medical errors, luckily it can be one of the most preventable. Errors include assigning a medication due to improper information such as allergies, other medications taken, previous diagnosis, and others. A medication error can also include lack of up to date warning or miscommunication due to poor handwriting. There is also confusion among drugs with similar names or dosage, and this effects all drugs including prescription, over the counter, vaccines, etc. The best way to avoid this medical error is to know what you’re taking, how much, and what you can’t take. If unable to remember, bring all of your medications to the doctor or hospital with you.

    2. Bad Communication : Have you been going to the same doctor for years? That doesn’t mean that he or she knows or will remember everything about you. The second most common medical error results from poor doctor/patient communication. With loads of tests and labs, doctors will not always remember every test you have, so it is up to you. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality lists the ten questions every patient should ask their doctor, along with many other useful tips. You can even go there to build your own personalized question list.

    demandstudioscom3. Infection : They may seem clean, but hospitals are one of the most likely places to receive an infection. Given the high incidence of people with infections, workers who can become contaminated, and the fact that many patients enter the hospital with weakened immune systems, infection can be a serious problem. If staying at a hospital, be sure to avoid a doctor’s tie, ask him or her if they have washed their hands since visiting the last patient, and be sure to wash your own often. This article reports on the incidence of high IV infection rates. If you receive one, be sure to monitor for signs of infection and ask for a new one if suspicious.

    4. Falls : Because on so many new drugs, patients cannot predict how they will react to them, causing a fall, which is another leading common medical error. In fact, ten percent of falls for the elderly occur in hospitals. Patients who have other mobility issues like a broken leg, walker, or cane, can also find the clean hospital floors more slippery than those at home. If you think you need assistance standing and walking, contact the nursing staff. Be sure and allow 10-20 minutes for a response, as they may be busy assisting others stand and walk.

    5. Surgical Errors : Because surgery is scary enough when everything goes right, it is vital to prevent errors before, during, and after. These can include wrong site, wrong procedure, and even wrong patient surgeries. Although there are new procedures in place to reduce these common medical errors, you can still do your part. Speak to your surgeon about the procedure you are having, why you are having it, and what the surgeon will be doing during the surgery. Also know the rules in place to avoid surgical errors: 1. The surgeon must sign the incision site with the patient awake. 2. Use only a signature and not a confusing “X.” 3. The entire surgery team must stop and perform a checklist before beginning the procedure.

    6. Pharmacy Errors : You don’t have to be in a hospital to be a victim of a common medical errors. With dozens of patients each day, pharmacies can also make errors on your medication. In fact, according to this article from CNN, 30 million Americans are the victim of outpatient medication errors each year. Although some are minor and can be caught easily by most patients, others are not. To best prevent medical errors of this sort, know what your doctor prescribed and how much when going to the pharmacy. Also, be sure to be honest with the pharmacist about other medications and drugs you are taking to ensure that there is no harmful interaction.

    62mileclubcom7. Lab Errors : Another facility with many patients and tests in one spot, common medical errors can occur here as well. These can also be truly devastating by leading to wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment, while the initial disease continues. Types of common errors can include MRI or CT taken incorrectly, samples taken incorrectly, or results misinterpreted. If you feel your lab results are misleading, you are within your rights to ask for another lab test to confirm.

    8. Treatment Errors : If you feel your diagnosis was reached correctly, a common medical error can still happen during treatment. Because many doctors have been practicing for decades, it is not unusual for them to be using outdated procedures. Be sure to ask why you are having the treatment, how long the doctor has been doing them, and if there are any alternatives. This website is full of guidelines for treating many common illnesses.

    9. Follow Up Care : When discharged from the hospital or clinic, be sure and know what your follow up care is and what to expect from it. If you are given a specific amount of medication and told to take it all, take it all. Just because you feel better halfway through, doesn’t mean you are better. Ask the facility who to contact if you have follow up questions on your at home care. This link also has more on what to do.

    10. Birth Injuries : It may be the most joyous time in your life, but birthing a child can also lead to medical errors. The most common can result in serious injuries such as cerebral palsy and paralysis. Women who are most at risk include those with large babies, prematurity, prolonged labor, and more. To best avoid these injuries, do research on the place you would like to have your baby in. Check several hospitals in and outside of your area. See the incidence of birth injury and, if possible, read reviews by other mothers who gave birth there.

    11. Bring Family : This is vital to avoiding common medical errors. If you are too ill to answer or too tired to protest, an informed family member is your best bet to sidestepping a common medical error. They can answer questions about medications, do reviews of your current and future care, and lift spirits. Make sure they also read these 12 most common medical errors and how to prevent them. Click on this link to get more rules for family members visiting at a hospital.

    12. Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late : With healthcare costs on the rise, many patients believe they can save money by putting off the doctor’s visit. However, this can actually have the opposite effect as the worse a disease gets, the harder and more expensive it is to treat. This decision can also be deadly with the wrong disease going undiagnosed or treated. If you have no insurance, click on this link to find a Take Care Clinic. Visits start at $65, which is far cheaper than many primary care visits out of pocket. They are also doing free blood glucose testing for the month of February.

If you have any questions regarding the above 12 most common medical errors and how to prevent them, ask your physician. The best way to not become lost in a system like so many million before you is to be your own best advocate. Know your rights both as a patient and an insurance holder. If you don’t have insurance, there are still many resources for you, along with many useful tips for those who do have it.


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This entry was posted on Monday, March 15th, 2010 at 9:09 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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