Which medical errors are most common and how can they be avoided?

medical error

Human life is very precious, and that is precisely why there is a thriving trillion dollar healthcare industry in the world. In the United States alone, the healthcare industry measures up to almost a whopping three trillion dollars with the health care industry boosting an annual revenue of $1.668 Trillion in 2015 alone.

These mind boggling figures should be no big deal when we take in to consideration that human lives require the best investment and best medical care available. Yet figures also show that the third leading cause of death in the United States and a major cause around the world happens to be Medical Errors. A study conducted by John Hopkins patient safety experts concluded that medical errors were responsible for more than 2,50,000 deaths per year in the US alone , making it the third leading cause of death in the country.

With such frightening figures, medical errors is a field in itself which needs to be studied carefully and analyzed so we can better understand it and avoid future errors. Let us take this opportunity and look at the most common medical errors and also try to evaluate how they can be avoided:


  • Medication errors

One of the most common medical errors happens when it comes to your medication. This means either you have been accidentally prescribed the wrong drug, been given the wrong medicine, taken the wrong dosage, combined it with another drug which reacted adversely or just had a bad reaction to a medicine. A study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies states that medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people each year, making it the most commonly occurring medical error.

Luckily this is a very easily preventable medical error. In order to ensure the reduction of medication errors, patients need to communicate effectively with their doctors, and make them aware of all past drug related history and allergies. You should also consciously make a point to know what medicine you have been prescribed, double check it since so many medicines have similar, confusing names nowadays, and be well aware of the prescribed dosage and duration. When in doubt, the patient should call or go back to their doctor, and in these easy steps the number of medication errors can be significantly reduced.


  • Birth and birth care

Shockingly major medical errors can occur while birthing a baby or taking care of premature babies. These occur through the use of improper birthing tools, wrong medications, umbilical cord problems, misdiagnosis and delayed C-sections. These medical errors can result in serious consequences such as cerebral palsy, paralysis and even death for the mother or the baby. Sadly the most preventable birth related medical errors is the failure to recognize maternal and fetal distress. Women who give birth prematurely, are obese, carry large babies and have prolonged labor are most likely to suffer from such medical errors.

Inadequate premature baby care also results in serious complications. Something as simple as the right amount of oxygen can be detrimental for premature babies, with too much oxygen being a cause for blindness.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality cites that 30% of birth injuries are caused by miscommunication between doctors and the medical staff regarding patient medical history and health.

This can be prevented by ensuring proper communication between physicians, medical staff and patients. Mothers need to educate themselves about pregnancy and delivery procedures, and the risk of birth assisting tools. Research and study different hospitals before choosing the best one for your delivery and baby care.


  • Infection from healthcare facilities

Despite the services they offer, hospitals are full of germs, and patients with compromised immune systems are prone to catch infections from there. Infectious people can unknowingly mingle with those who have a weakened immune system and this can result in an outbreak of infectious disease. The US Centre for Disease and Control Prevention reveals that 1 in 25 people are now affected by hospital acquired infections. This can also be quite easily avoided by regularly cleaning common hospital facilities, and ensuring doctors and nurses wash their hands thoroughly between checking patients.


  • Central Line Associated Bloodstream Infections

A central line is a tube that is inserted in the patient’s vein for giving blood, fluids, medication or conducting blood tests. Central Line Associate Bloodstream Infections occur when germs enter the patient’s body through the central line. These result in thousands of deaths annually and billions of dollars of cost to the US Healthcare Industry. Studies show that this is a very easily preventable medical error).

Healthcare practitioners should strictly observe the highest hygiene standards and protocol when putting in the central line, or when inspecting or changing it. If the area around it gets red and itchy and the patient develops fever, tests should be conducted at the earliest to check and counter infection. Patients can also do their part to minimize central line related infections by keeping it dry, not touching it and not letting hospital visitors touch it either.


  • Surgical Errors

Surgical errors occur more than a staggering 4000 times in the US alone each year, according to a study by John Hopkins University . These occur when surgeons accidentally leave foreign objects in the patient’s body, operate the wrong body part, the wrong patient, or even use the wrong procedure. These scary scenarios can be avoided easily and the Joint Commission body in the US has come up with a full list of how surgical errors can be avoided, basically by ensuring effective communication. This should be read by every patient undergoing surgery around the world and will definitely minimize surgical errors.


  • Lab Errors

Lab errors are shockingly common too, and can be devastating for patients who are wrongly diagnosed. Healthy patients can be wrongly diagnosed, having to undergo treatments with massive adverse side effects or sick patients can be given the wrong reports and be reported to be healthy, missing out on potentially lifesaving medicine and treatments.

Lab errors occur when lab reports are mixed up, samples, MRI or CT scans are taken incorrectly,  calculation or measurement errors and lab results are misdiagnosed.

Patients and lab staff both need to be alert and careful during lab related tests to avoid such errors. Luckily a lot of work is being done to avoid lab errors and studies show there is a decline in laboratory related diagnostics.

It is shocking how common and at the same time how easily avoidable the most common medical errors really are. The healthcare industry needs to invest more time and money in creating awareness of these potentially fatal and easily preventable errors so future accidents are avoided and related mortality figures are decreased.

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