If you had to guess the third most common cause of death in the United States, what would it be? Maybe cancer? Cardiovascular disease? Surprisingly enough, the answer is medical errors. A recent study says that medical mistakes cause more than 250,000 Americans to die each year. Other reports say the number is higher–440,000 deaths due to medical errors.
Why are mistakes in medicine and health care so prevalent? What can you do to protect yourself when you are receiving care? Read more to find out.
Causes of medical errors
Mistakes in hospitals, emergency rooms and pharmacies happen for a variety of reasons, including:
- Staff with inadequate skills or education
- Errors in judgment
- Computer breakdowns
- Communication errors
Anyone providing medical care may be the person who makes a fatal mistake, including pharmacy technicians, pharmacists, nurses and doctors.
Common medical mistakes
There are a wide variety of mistakes that result in serious injuries and deaths, including:
- Medication errors: Wrong dose, wrong drug and adverse combinations
- Diagnostic errors: Misdiagnosing or failure to diagnose a condition
- Surgical errors: Wrong-site surgery, use of unsanitary surgical tools, nerve damage or wrong-patient surgery
In some cases, mistakes are caused by outright negligence, such as a doctor getting drunk and operating on a patient.
How to protect yourself
You can take steps to avoid being a victim of medical malpractice. Some preventative tips include:
- Asking your health care provider questions about the side effects, benefits and downsides of any procedures or drugs
- Getting opinions from multiple doctors
- Bringing a friend, family member or attorney to be your advocate to help you process information
While you may not be able to totally eliminate the risk of medical errors, following these guidelines will help you steer clear of them.
Unfortunately, medical errors are too common. If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice, you may be able to bring a lawsuit against your health care provider.