Medical Errors: An Update

Posted on Feb 4, 2015 | 0 comments


Surgical Errors Based on Wrong Medication Not Uncommon

You may have suffered a surgical error and are dealing with terrible consequences, or have lost a loved one due to a surgical error. Some surgical errors relate to instruments or sponges being left in the body after surgery, but there can be other causes. For example, administering a wrong medication or wrong dosage is also a common type of medical negligence.

How Could This Type of Error Happen?

Surgeons and other medical professionals (as well as people generally) have a tendency to see what they expect to see. This tendency even has a name – “ascertainment bias” – a form of cognitive error. A team of medical providers in a hospital setting who work together often may tend to trust each other based on prior knowledge. So, when a medication is brought to a surgeon to give to a patient, the surgeon may trust all those who handled that medication, beginning with the pharmacist and ending with the person holding the medication who hands it to him.

That expectation held by the surgeon that others can be trusted to provide the correct medication plays a role in this ascertainment bias.

A Quick Check of Medication Can Drastically Change a Patient’s Outcome

Medical malpractice errors related to giving the wrong medicine or an incorrect dosage can sometimes have terrible results. A recent tragic case in Massachusetts exemplifies the problem of a doctor having an ascertainment bias and trusting in all those who handled a medicine before him.

The surgeon looks at a drug handed over by a nurse, and is convinced that it is the right medication because it appears to be the correct medication – yet it is not. He did not read the label. The wrong medication can cause serious medical conditions, some permanent, or in many tragic cases, loss of life.

Although medical professionals must have a high level of trust in each other, every possible point at which an avoidable error is detectable should be part of standard safety protocols for surgery and all treatments involving the administration of medications. Surgeons and nurse practitioners should be required, for example, to submit detailed written prescriptions to pharmacists.

Avoidable Injuries in Hospitals at an All Time High

Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the nation, following heart disease and cancer. Overdoses due to wrong amount of medication, or the wrong drug being administered are of great concern because these errors add to those unfortunate deaths.

A recent report estimates that 210,000 people die each year due to a preventable medical error, with the actual numbers estimated to be closer to 440,000. Serious harm to a patient is estimated to be 10 to 20 times more common than these lethal mistakes. These numbers are unnerving and are certainly cause for patients to be vigilant and proactively involved in their medical care. Sometimes simply stepping outside the norm of fully accepting all that a doctor says and does at face value and asking questions about treatment can be enough to make a doctor be more attentive. If a doctor knows he or she is being questioned, they may be more concerned about potential medical malpractice suits and therefore do their work more mindfully.

Roughly a sixth of all deaths in the USA could be attributed to a medical error, according to the report. Some disagreement exists about the numbers of deaths due to avoidable mistakes, but no one is disputing the fact that no matter what tracking system is used to measure the numbers, deaths resulting from medical errors is a serious problem.

Sources:
A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care. Journal of Patient Safety
How Many Die from Medical Mistakes in U.S. Hospitals? NPR

Robert Gordon (70 Posts)

Robert Gordon is the editor of medical-directions.com, a health fanatic and avid Kayaker. He spends most of his time reading medical blogs and searching for new content to engage his readership.


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