Medical malpractice has become the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer, and sadly, many medical errors are preventable. Despite efforts to ensure safe healthcare in America, however, this under-recognized epidemic continues to take innocent lives at an alarming rate. According to recent reports, a disturbing 10 percent of all U.S. deaths care caused by preventable medical mistakes.
Types of Medical Mistakes Behind Injuries, Deaths and Malpractice Lawuits
When a medical provider is negligent, incompetent, or reckless, victims can be seriously harmed and even lose their lives. Unfortunately, medical errors occur in all types of healthcare and in a variety of ways. Some of the most common types of medical mistakes a Chicago medical malpractice attorney might see include:
- Incorrect or Missed Diagnosis: About 46 percent of medical malpractice claims involve misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. When a healthcare provider fails to diagnose a serious condition right away or incorrectly diagnoses a patient, the victim often misses out on the opportunity for medical treatment that can help prevent significant harm and even death. If a reasonably skilled and competent medical provider facing the same situation would not have made an error in diagnosis, a physician can be held liable for his or her diagnostic mistake.
- Hospital Acquired Infections: Approximately 80,000 victims lose their lives each year due to infections they developed in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and thousands more are injured. If it can be proven that a hospital-acquired infection could have been prevented and it occurred or progressed due to the negligence of a medical provider or facility, a medical malpractice lawsuit may be in order.
- Medication Errors: Medication mistakes account for approximately 7,000 deaths per year. There are numerous types of medication errors including being given the wrong prescription or receiving the wrong dosage, being given a medication that the victim is allergic to or that interacts with other medicines the patient is taking, not receiving information about possible side effects of medications, and even receiving medicine that is mislabeled. Depending on the mistake made, doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and drug manufacturers might be able to be held liable for medication errors.
- Surgical Errors: According to a recent study, approximately 34 percent of inpatient incidents that result in medical malpractice claims involve surgery errors. These frequently include cases of operations performed on the wrong patient or wrong body part, surgical tools or equipment being left inside the victim, incorrect incisions and other mistakes that cause serious damage or death.
Contributing Factors Raise the Risk for Medical Malpractice
A number of factors contribute to the risk for medical malpractice, and many of them are preventable.
It is vital for medical staff to have access to patient records, medical histories, and other important information that could impact the risks of a procedure before treatment is administered. Especially in emergency medical situations, however, this isn’t always possible. In many non-emergency situations though, some health care providers choose to proceed without taking the time to thoroughly evaluate things like allergies, previous reactions and underlying medical conditions that can place a victim at risk.
Miscommunication plays a significant role in a large percentage of malpractice cases. According to a recent study, communication breakdowns are involved in approximately 37 percent of severe and deadly malpractice incidents. And communication errors are present in all types of encounters from provider to provider interaction to miscommunication between providers and patients. EMRs, which are designed to improve communication in healthcare settings, actually have been shown to make the problem worse.
Many medical providers work extremely long hours and often take extra shifts to make up for the shortage in staff members that is seen across the nation. Some even consume illegal drugs, alcohol and prescription medications while on duty. Fatigue, drugs, and alcohol can impair the judgment of medical providers and sometimes result in severe patient harm or death.
Neglect is very common in medical malpractice cases, and in many cases, it comes down to healthcare providers simply not taking the time to follow proper procedures. When surgical instruments are not properly sterilized, hands are not washed, surgical sites aren’t verified or all surgical materials and tools are not accounted for, patients can become severely injured, ill, or even die. In some cases, however, neglect can seem almost intentional. When monitors are muted or ignored, patient complaints are dismissed, and victims are not properly supervised distress is sometimes not even noticed until it’s too late.
What is Being Done
Sadly, very little is actually being done to prevent medical errors from occurring. According to Dr. Ashish Jha of the Harvard Global Health Institute, most of the efforts that have been made to improve patient safety are ineffective or misdirected. Experts say more thorough research is needed so effective plans of action can be created.