What You Need to Know About Medical Errors …(Besides the Fact They are the Third Leading Cause of Death in the US)

Growing up, we are taught to trust the people who help us: our parents, the police, doctors, teachers, and dentists. Often times we do, and to our pleasure, they don’t disappoint.

But like everyone, professionals make mistakes. In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Johns Hopkins, 10% of all deaths in the United States are now due to medical error, thus securing its ranking as the third highest cause of death in the United States. By analyzing medical death rate data over the span of eight years, Johns Hopkins experts concluded more than 250,000 (251,454 to be precise) deaths per year are due to medical errors in the U.S.

One of the best ways to confront this shocking statistic is to begin a dialogue surrounding why they occur and what can be done to help mitigate both medical errors and medical malpractice alike, and in this article, I’ll do exactly that.

Medical Errors are Not Medical Malpractice and Vice Versa

First things first, it’s important to know the difference between medical errors and medical malpractice: not all medical errors are caused by negligence.

By definition, medical errors are adverse effects or unforeseen complications that arise from a medication or surgery, when a physician is following a normal course of treatment. For example, if a patient had an infection, was prescribed antibiotics, and had a severe allergic reaction as it was an unknown allergy, this would be an example of a medical error. Another example is if a doctor’s illegible handwriting causes a prescription to be incorrect, possibly affecting the patient instead of treating.

On the other hand, if a patient had disclosed to being allergic to a particular type of antibiotic and the doctor failed to read his/her charts, thus prescribing this exact antibiotic or a derivative, this would constitute as negligence, thus medical malpractice. Medical malpractice occurs when the doctor, nurse, or physician acts negligently by failing to treat people with fairness and reasonable care. Medical malpractice cases can be pursued in the civil court system, although 31 states have medical malpractice caps which govern the total amount of money a plaintiff can be awarded after a successful lawsuit.

Medical Errors Are More Common Than You Think

Originally, it was estimated only 98,000 deaths were attributed to medical errors, but Johns Hopkins’ study proves medical errors are rampant in the healthcare industry.

Factors which contribute to medical errors have been noted to include communication breakdowns between different shift doctors and nurses, inadequate and nonuniform information flow, technical failures, inadequate policies, and overarching human problems.

But of all the possible factors, it is well-documented miscommunication is the single leading factor in medical errors.

Medical Errors Call for Reformation of Hospital and Healthcare Policies

The results of the Johns Hopkins study have challenged the systematic processes in the healthcare field, warenting fragmented insurance networks, current standard protocols, and medical training be given a second look. Martin Makary, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University of School of Medicine, commented on the prevalence of medical errors from the study, noting “More research on preventing medical errors from occurring is needed to address the problem.”

In an article written by Julie McCoy’s from Media Health Leaders, she notes often times the threat of litigation is on the mind of physicians, which then deters residents from reporting and therefore causes institutions to miss opportunities to improve in systems within the hospital. This also causes value opportunities for teaching to be missed.

Actionable Programs: Did They Work?

In response medical errors in the late 1990’s, Eglin U.S. Air Force (USAF) Regional Hospital implemented the program called Medical Team Management (MTM) in 2001, focusing on communication, teamwork, and reporting. Through the implementation of MTM, USAF found there was a significant increase in the number of reports filed.

Through the success of this program, other Air Force and Department of Defense medical facilities adapted the team-specific training in high-risk areas to help mitigate the possibility of errors and increase effectiveness in processes.

What Can Reporting Medical Errors and Malpractice Do?

Reporting medical errors can help increase analysis, identification of trends, and ultimately provide concrete data to inform recommendations for changes in the way medical care is executed. Creating a dialogue encourages medical community to evaluate what went wrong and how, thus paving the way for better solutions/approaches, and challenging improvement of standard procedures.

As a patient, there is power to help mitigate either medical errors or medical malpractice: voicing concerns prior to a surgery or being prescribed a medication, asking questions, doing research, getting a second opinion, obtaining things in writing, knowing the practitioners who will care for you (medical handoffs are a factor in 80% of all serious medical errors), and discussing expectations can all help. It is vital to your health and safety to ensure you feel comfortable with your physicians or surgeons to have those conversations. If a medical error does happen, its is important to speak up and report it to health care providers so they may remedy the situation, and prevent it from happening again. If you or a loved one are a victim of medical malpractice, contact the best personal injury lawyer in your area to begin the process of filing a claim to hold negligent practitioners accountable.