We hear so much about cancer and heart disease being major causes of death in the United States, but the problem of medical errors ranks third on the list.
Injuries and fatalities caused by medical errors are underreported. Researchers struggle with insufficient data and want to see improved information-gathering procedures.
Looking at numbers
At the 2017 American Academy of Physicians Assistants Conference, one speaker informed attendees that, based on statistics gathered from 1999 to 2013, medical errors harm two to four million patients annually. Furthermore, using the best-available information gathered from hospital reports in four separate studies, researchers found that medical errors are responsible for more than 250,000 deaths every year.
Uncovering common errors
Studies of autopsies turned up the issue of misdiagnosis in 10 to 30 percent of patient deaths. According to experts, patients in ICU are most at risk for harm or even death due to medication errors. However, there are other problems that occur more often than people think:
- Wrong patient, wrong surgery, wrong body part removed
- A sponge or other foreign body left inside the patient during a surgical procedure
- A delay in diagnosis
Making recommendations for change
Researchers point out that information about medical errors must be more visible. Hospitals should launch investigations into patient deaths more quickly to discover whether any kind of error played a role. To bring more attention to the issue, researchers also recommend that death certificates contain an additional field specifically for medical error details. They acknowledge, however, that such a change would likely require tort reform.
Underestimating the risk
Patients depend on the skill and knowledge of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals and most of the time, they receive the proper treatment. However, those who study data concerning medical errors believe that many people underestimate the risk when they visit a doctor or check into a hospital for care. There are legal remedies for patients to consider if they suffer injury, or a family member succumbs, because of a suspected medical error.