Medical Errors: Too Common & Deadly But Participation in Care Can Help

We all have encountered the medical profession in one way or another. We have taken our children to the doctor, gotten immunizations, visited the emergency room, gotten an x-ray, had an annual checkup, gone to the pharmacy for prescription medications, stayed in a hospital room or given birth. Whew!

Most of us have also accompanied other family members as they were in the hot seat under medical care.

Luckily most of us have not experienced medical errors. Thank goodness! Not all of us, though.

There are steps we can take to reduce our reliance on luck while reducing the risk of our loved ones falling victim to an error.

Medical Errors Resulting in Harm

Medical errors are one of the top causes of death and injury, according the the Academy of Family Physicians — and they’re only one of many organizations saying so.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2010 revealed that 25% of all hospital admissions resulted in medical harm to the patient.

According to the American Association for Justice, the number of people who die from medical negligence each year in the US is in the 100,000 range. The Institute of Medicine confirms this number and states that the financial cost of this negligence is $29 billion per year — in addition to the human cost. It is estimated that if medical negligence was classified as a disease, it would be the sixth leading cause of death each year.

One in seven Medicare patients experience a medical error!

Reducing the Chances of an Error

Medical errors can happen in any medical setting and include medication errors, wrong surgery site, leaving something in a patient after surgery, diagnosis errors, medical equipment failure, communication failures or problems with lab reports or interpretations.

There are some steps we can take to reduce the chance that loved ones — or we — are affected by a medical error.

  1. Be involved in medical care. The more involved you are, communicating with each member of the team, asking questions and clarifying each procedure, the better the chances of an uneventful procedure.
  2. Make everyone aware of the medications currently being taken, including dosages and times. Don’t forget the over the counter medications and supplements.
  3. Let everyone know about an allergy to a drug, food or substance such as latex. Be aware of the reaction when exposed to an allergen.
  4. Give the doctor and healthcare team access to full medical records and health information.
  5. When taking prescription drugs, be sure the pharmacist can read the doctor’s handwriting. Don’t go home with prescriptions unless you know how and when to take them and ask any questions you may have about new medications. Be sure you understand the timing, does every four hours mean while awake or should you wake up in the middle of the night?
  6. Do research on any health facility or hospital before have surgery to be sure it’s the best choice for the specific needs.
  7. Ask every member of the healthcare team to wash their hands before they perform any care.
  8. Clearly understand all discharge instructions before leaving the hospital or doctor’s office. It’s often helpful to have a second set of ears to hear the treatment plan to avoid confusion or oversight.
  9. If having tests, x-rays or blood work, be sure to get a full report of the findings. Don’t assume that not hearing anything means there is nothing to know.
  10. Learn about the side effects of medications and any safety precautions to take during use.

Being an active participant in our care and that of loved ones can help improve health and safety when receiving medical care in many ways, including reducing the risk of errors.

Family caregivers can often be a big help to senior loved ones by stepping into the role of advocate and helper when it comes to the medical care.

2 thoughts on “Medical Errors: Too Common & Deadly But Participation in Care Can Help”

  1. Thanks for the very helpful post. I have been desperately trying to talk my father into hip replacement surgery but he has seen all these commercials about recalls and bad medical practices and I can’t seem to talk him away from it. I think your tips on reducing the chances of errors might help him! Great blog

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