What Are the Most Common Fatal Medical Errors? 

Fatal Medical Malpractice

The last thing you want to consider when putting your health and safety in the hands of a trusted health care provider is that doctors are human and capable of making mistakes. Unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, a medical mistake can have devastating consequences. According to a study published in the Journal of Patient Safety, medical mistakes are responsible for 400,000 fatalities each year, making them the third leading cause of death in the United States. That means that medical mistakes cause more deaths than strokes, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Although this is an alarming statistic, it does not mean that you should distrust all medical professionals or avoid getting the necessary treatment for a health condition. By understanding some of the most common medical errors, you can take steps to protect yourself and your loved one and ensure that you receive the quality care that you deserve. If you are injured or your health is compromised in any way due to a medical error, you are urged to contact a lawyer experienced in medical malpractice as soon as possible. 

What Are the Top Medical Errors that Result in Fatalities?

Even the most skilled medical professionals who work in the best hospitals in the country can make mistakes. The following are some of the most common types of preventable medical errors that can cause serious health complications and fatalities:

  • Misdiagnosis: If a patient is not properly diagnosed and they have a serious health condition, a misdiagnosis can allow the condition to progress and become much more serious. In addition, if a patient is misdiagnosed, they may undergo unnecessary or harmful treatments. For example, if a patient is incorrectly diagnosed with cancer, they may go through excruciating chemotherapy and radiation when they do not actually have cancer. In extreme cases, the condition can become fatal if treatment is performed on the wrong patient.
  • Delayed diagnosis: When an illness or health condition is not properly diagnosed in a timely fashion, the condition can progress and become much more serious. In extreme cases, if health care providers do not identify the condition and provide the necessary treatment, the condition may progress to the point at which it is no longer treatable. 
  • Communication issues: Miscommunication between doctors, nurses, laboratory technicians, pharmacists, and other medical professionals can result in serious medical errors. Whether vocal or written, these are among the most common medical errors.  
  • Infections: Anytime patients are hospitalized, there is a risk of getting a hospital-acquired infection. Most of these infections are not serious and can be treated with antibiotics. However, some can be life threatening and even fatal. 
  • Flow of information: Oftentimes, patients do not educate themselves about their illness or health condition, or even learn basic information about the illness and the treatment options. According to a survey from the Mayo Clinic, only about 42 percent of discharged patients were able to name their diagnosis, 28 percent could list all their medications, 37 percent understood the purpose of their prescription medications, and only 14 percent were aware of the most common side effects of the drugs they are taking.
  • Medication errors: Another common medical error involves medication mistakes. They include everything from prescribing the wrong dose to failing to account for a range of drug interactions. The following are examples of common medication errors:
    – Failure to account for the patient’s medical history, or any allergies he or she may have.
    – Failure to administer medication.
    – Failure to consider potentially serious drug interactions.
    – Failure to administer the medication at the right time.
    – Administering the incorrect medication.
    – Administering the incorrect type of medication. For example, prescribing an immediate-release medication instead of an extended-release medication can have serious health consequences.
    – Administering the incorrect dose or strength.
    – Incorrect preparation of a medication.
    – Administering a medication to the wrong patient.
    – Administering a medication that has expired.
  • Organizational transfer of knowledge: These can occur when health care providers are not properly trained, or they do not receive adequate education. This can result in doctors, nurses, and other caregivers performing medical tasks improperly. In addition, if information is not properly transferred between shifts, this can put patients at increased risk of a range of health complications or even fatalities.
  • Patient-related issues: This type of medical error involves improper patient identification, insufficient patient assessment, failure to obtain consent, and inadequate patient education. 
  • Staffing issues: When hospitals and other healthcare facilities are understaffed, the health care providers who are on duty are often overworked, exhausted, and more likely to make a mistake. According to a Mayo Clinic survey, of the close to 6,700 doctors in the United States, over 10 percent reported that they made a major medical error in the past three months. The actual number is likely to be higher because not all medical mistakes are reported. 
  • Defective medical devices: If a medical device used to treat a patient is defective or has not been properly sterilized or maintained, it can cause serious health complications, infections, and in extreme cases, fatalities. In most cases, the health care provider is not to blame for health complications caused by defective medical errors. Rather, the manufacturer of the device may be held liable for the injuries or other harm done to the patient.
  • Inadequate policies: These medical errors involve failing to create a comprehensive organizational policy, documenting those policies, and carrying out the policies across the medical facility.

What Can I Do to Avoid Sustaining a Medical Error?

To a certain degree, we as patients must trust that our health care professionals are going to provide the best possible care and not make any preventable errors that could jeopardize our health. Although medical errors can and do happen, there are proactive steps that patients can take to reduce the risk of a potentially life-threatening errors, including the following:

    • Ask questions. Talk to your health care provider about the benefits, side effects, and possible disadvantages of the recommended medication, procedure, or course of treatment. There are also a range of online resources that you can use that will provide answers to your questions and information about recommended treatment protocols, medications, and procedures.
    • Get a second opinion. It is always a good idea to get a second opinion, particularly if you have been diagnosed with a serious, potentially life-threatening disease that will require extensive treatment or surgical procedures. You should not avoid seeking a second opinion because you think it will offend your health care provider. In fact, a good doctor who is confident in his or her diagnosis will encourage you to get a second opinion. 
    • Bring an advocate to your appointment. When you are diagnosed with a serious medical condition, understanding, and processing the information can be very overwhelming. It is highly recommended that you bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your appointment who is most likely to understand the information and ask productive questions. According to the president and founder of the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education and Advocacy, patients are urged to seek answers to the questions they have in an assertive, yet respectful manner. Depending on the circumstances, you may also want to consider using the services of a designated medication manager who can act as a safety check and confirm the advice provided by your physician.
  • Download an app. There are a range of apps available based on your age, specific health condition, and other patient information that can help you keep track of your condition, manage your medication, and monitor your overall well-being. This can help you work as a team with your physician and reduce the risk of a potentially serious medical error.

Medical errors can occur in a range of settings, including hospitals, clinics, surgical centers, medical offices, nursing homes, pharmacies, and even patients’ homes. By thoroughly studying these mistakes and identifying effective ways to prevent, monitor, and respond to them, it can have a significant impact on changing the standards of care. In addition to the health implications that medical errors can have on patients, they can also increase the cost of care. If the necessary steps are taken to eliminate some of the most common medical errors, health care providers and facilities can protect patients, reduce the costs associated with medical malpractice claims, and improve the overall care that is provided to their patients. 

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Patients Subjected to Medical Errors

If you or a loved one was injured, or your health was compromised because of a medical error, you are urged to contact the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. We will conduct a thorough investigation into the details of your case and determine who is responsible for your injury or health complications. Our dedicated legal team will assist you with every step of the claims process, address all your questions and concerns, and ensure that you receive the financial compensation for which you are entitled. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.