Reducing the chances of a medical error

Medical mistakes are common in hospitals and medical facilities, but being informed and proactive may prevent patients from suffering a doctor error.

Visiting the doctor or having a medical procedure in the hospital is frightening for many Pennsylvania residents, and not just because some people are afraid of the medical community. There are valid reasons to fear a doctor or hospital error causing a worsened medical condition or life-threatening complications. According to U.S. News, over 200,000 patients each year lose their lives due to preventable medical mistakes. An additional 20 times more may receive non-fatal injuries from mistakes that should never have happened in the first place.

Common preventable hospital errors

Nearly everyone has seen a headline reporting on a terrifying mistake during surgery, such as a surgical sponge or other item left in a patient’s body after the procedure. However, many of the most common mistakes that could have been prevented involve lesser-known, but no less devastating, incidents. These include the following:

• Infections contracted at a hospital or health care facility – about one in 20 patients receive a secondary infection while hospitalized, states Consumer Reports.

• Central line infections – IVs and ports are common locations for harmful bacteria to be introduced into the bloodstream. Medical professionals may also forget to remove them.

• Medication mistakes – patients often risk being given the wrong dosage amount, the wrong drug, a bad combination of medications or may have an adverse reaction to a prescribed drug.

• Unnecessary blood transfusions – a study showed that almost 60 percent of blood transfusions worldwide were inappropriate. Patients are more at risk of developing infections with the more blood cells they receive.

• Giving premature babies too much oxygen – an overly high dose of oxygen in babies can cause blindness.

The American Academy of Family Physicians points out that patients who are informed of their care and take an active role as a member of their health care team are less likely to become victims of a medical mistake.

Prevention tips

There are some things patients can do to reduce their risk of being harmed by a medical error. First off, patients may wish to check the safety rating of their hospital of choice with Consumer Reports before scheduling an appointment. It is important to speak with the doctor or surgeon about the procedure, including how to take medications, post-surgical instructions and follow-up care. Patients should research and become informed of their conditions and the available treatments. Accurately letting the doctor know about all medications, supplements and existing medical conditions can make a difference in the treatment plan prescribed, as well as in the operating room. It also doesn’t hurt to remind doctors or nurses to wash their hands before an examination or test is performed, especially after surgery.

Medical mistakes are, unfortunately, a fairly regular occurrence in Pennsylvania hospitals and health care facilities. Taking charge of your health and treatment plan may prevent the worst of them happening to you.