Matthew Minner | July 15, 2021 | Medical Malpractice
Doctors, hospitals, nurses, and other healthcare providers commit more medical errors than you might think. Two doctors from the Johns Hopkins University of Medicine recently studied medical errors. They found that medical errors cause about 250,000 deaths every year. This makes medical errors the third leading cause of death in the U.S.
But medical errors might occur even more frequently than the study suggests. In addition to deaths, medical errors cause hundreds of thousands of temporary and permanent injuries annually.
Here is some information about the most common medical errors committed by healthcare providers.
What Are the Types of Medical Errors?
Medical errors can happen through administrative mistakes, like miscoding a file. They can also happen because of the need to act quickly in an emergency, such as administering the wrong dose of medication.
Medical errors typically fall into three categories:
Diagnosis errors include misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, and missed diagnosis.
Misdiagnosis happens when you are diagnosed with a condition or injury you do not have. Delayed diagnosis occurs when your diagnosis happens later than it should have and causes your condition to worsen. The delay often happens because of missing or misinterpreted information.
Missed diagnosis happens when healthcare professionals diagnose you as healthy when you actually have an injury or medical condition.
Diagnosis errors can happen in hospitals, doctors’ offices, dentists’ offices, and most frequently, in testing labs.
Treatment errors happen when your medical provider fails to administer the proper standard of care.
Treatment errors can happen when a healthcare provider treats you for the wrong condition or administers the wrong treatment for your illness or injury.
Treatment errors include drug errors, such as providing the wrong drugs or wrong doses. They also include surgical errors in which a surgeon operates on the wrong body part or leaves an instrument inside of your body after surgery.
Treatment errors also include non-treatment. These errors happen when a healthcare provider incorrectly advises you to forego treatment for your illness or injury.
When a healthcare provider examines or treats a patient, the patient must give informed consent.
Under Kentucky law, informed consent requires a discussion between the healthcare provider and the patient about the:
- Procedure or treatment
- Medically acceptable alternatives
- Risks and hazards in the proposed treatment
After the discussion, the healthcare provider must obtain consent from the patient or someone authorized to give consent on behalf of the patient. In most cases, the healthcare provider obtains a signature to prove consent.
Communication errors happen when a healthcare provider fails to have a reasonably prudent discussion about the procedure with the patient. Suppose the healthcare provider leaves out important information, misleads the patient about the procedure, or fails to inform the patient of the risks fully. In that case, the discussion might not meet the standard of reasonableness.
Communication errors can also happen when the healthcare provider fails to obtain consent when consent would be reasonably expected under the circumstances.
In an emergency or when the patient has communication problems, a doctor might use alternate means to obtain consent. But normally, the patient must provide express or implied consent to the procedure or treatment.
Who Can Commit Medical Errors?
Anyone involved in the diagnosis or treatment of patients can commit medical errors. Hospitals, clinics, and medical practices can also commit medical errors in their processing of medical records, test results, or other patient information.
Some examples include:
- Physical therapists
- Lab technicians
Other treatment providers like chiropractors and mental health counselors can commit professional errors. But these errors are not considered to be medical errors because these individuals are not approved to practice medicine.
Other Common Medical Errors
Some of the other most common medical errors include:
Doctors can commit drug errors when they prescribe the wrong drugs for your condition. Drug errors also happen when a doctor prescribes the right drug, but the wrong dose for your size.
Doctors can also commit drug errors when they prescribe drugs that interact poorly with each other or with drugs previously prescribed.
When a doctor prescribes the right drugs, drug errors can still happen if anesthesiologists, nurses, and pharmacists administer or provide the wrong drugs.
Whether they are caused by erroneous records, mix-ups, or carelessness, drug errors can have serious consequences, including injuries, coma, or death.
Some errors happen after doctors have completed treatment. These errors might include failure to monitor you after treatment to make sure you do not develop complications. They also include failure to use post-treatment measures, such as pressure socks, to reduce the risk of complications like blood clots.
Health insurance providers share responsibility for one type of post-treatment error. Under pressure from insurers, doctors often minimize the time between surgery and discharge from the hospital. But sending patients home before they have healed can harm patients.
Although doctors can commit many different types of diagnosis errors, the most common diagnostic error is the missed diagnosis. Missed diagnoses can happen in many ways, including:
- A radiologist misreading images
- A lab returning incorrect results or results for the wrong patient
- A doctor missing or ignoring symptoms
Missed diagnoses can devastate your health. Since you do not know about your illness or injury, you do not undergo treatment. With this valuable time wasted, your medical condition could advance to the point at which doctors can no longer treat it.
Liability for Medical Errors
You can get compensation for injuries caused by medical errors through a medical malpractice claim. Healthcare providers have malpractice insurance to cover medical errors that injure or kill a patient.
To prove medical malpractice, you and your injury lawyer will need to show:
- You were a patient of the healthcare provider
- Your care was unreasonable under the circumstances
- You suffered an injury
- The deficient care caused your injury
If you can prove all of these elements, the healthcare provider and its malpractice insurer will need to pay for your medical bills, lost income, and pain and suffering.