What are the Most Common Medical Errors?

Doctors have a duty of care toward their patients and patients have a right to expect doctors and other medical professionals to uphold that duty with diligence and competency to treat their conditions as effectively as possible and in a manner consistent with other professionals in the same field. When a doctor fails to uphold this standard and makes a medical error, he or she has committed an act of negligence. When the failure results in a medical mistake that causes harm, the doctor or member of the medical support team who committed the mistake is liable.

Though recent decades have brought improvement to hospital safeguard procedures and improving healthcare safety, according to research gathered by John Hopkins, more than 250,000 people die each year as a result of medical mistakes. This research suggests this surpasses the CDC’s listing of respiratory disease (150,000 deaths per year) as the third leading cause of death in the United States. What are the most common medical errors and what should we do if we’re harmed by a medical professional’s negligence?

These Common Medical Mistakes Cause Harm to Thousands

Medical errors may occur in any hospital, clinic, or healthcare setting. Studies show that 1 out of 7 Medicare patients become victims of medical mistakes in hospitals, but it can happen to anyone regardless of age. The most common medical errors include:

  • Misdiagnoses, often the result of not ordering the right tests or not asking the right questions
  • Diagnoses delays or failure to make the correct diagnosis within a reasonable amount of time
  • Medication mistakes, often due to doctors ordering the wrong medication or wrong dosage, transcribing errors, or pharmacy mistakes in dispensing or labeling medications
  • Infections contracted during procedures or surgeries
  • Wrong patient or wrong patient record mistakes
  • Medical device malfunctions or misuse
  • Failing to give patients instructions for at-home care after procedures
  • Discharging patients too early or too soon after procedures

Medical errors can have physical consequences ranging from minor inconveniences to severe harm, impairment, and even death. Studies also show long-lasting physical and emotional consequences to patients injured by medical mistakes, with 30 injured survey respondents indicating negative impacts for a year or longer. As many as 12% of respondents in the study were family members of victims who died as a consequence of medical errors.

Why Do Medical Mistakes Happen?

Mistakes can happen at any level of healthcare, from wrong patient and wrong record errors in hospitals to medical mistakes at home due to a lack of proper after-care instructions or medication dosage mislabeling. But why do these errors continue to occur despite improved procedural training? It helps to understand some of the root causes leading to medical mistakes. Some common causes include the following:

  • Breakdown of communication, either verbal or written between physicians, nurses, medical staff, pharmacists, or with the patient
  • Inadequate medical information flow when complete medical records fail to follow the patient through all stages of care or through multiple departments of facilities
  • Failure of healthcare team members to follow policies and procedures or under-trained, under-educated staff members
  • Inadequate staffing and the resulting fatigue from over-worked healthcare providers
  • Inadequate hospital policies and procedures in place
  • Medical device failure, technology failure, and equipment problems

The human and financial costs of medical errors have a negative impact on many lives and families. While determining liability can be a challenge in medical error malpractice claims, an attorney with knowledge and experience can help victims achieve justice, reimburse medical expenses and gain financial compensation for their injuries.