Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States and experts estimate that between 200,000 and 400,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical mistakes.
According to a study published on July 17th by The BMJ medical journal, 5% of patients are harmed throughout the course of their medical care. To make matters worse, 50% of these injuries are preventable and 12% of them lead to the death or permanent disability of a patient.
Authored by Maria Panagioti, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, the study includes information from over 300,000 patients and was conducted internationally. After examining the information of 333,025 adult patients, the researchers found that 28,150 of them experienced harmful incidents. A whopping 15,419 of these incidents were preventable.
Surgeries accounted for 23% of these incidents, drugs and therapies lead to 49% of the harms, and health care infections made up 16% of the occasions. Almost half of the incidents were classified as “mild,” but 36% of them were considered “moderate” and another 12% were labeled “severe.”
Statistics show that drug-related medical errors account for a significant portion of harm done to patients. Knowing this gives medical professionals an area to focus on and reform when creating preventable strategies.
It also shows the importance of FDA regulations in protecting patients from dangerous drugs and highlights the responsibility of medical providers to consider and disclose adverse side effects.
While reducing medical errors will not happen overnight, providing evidence of medical mistakes is a beneficial first step in highlighting the problem. Hospitals have already created registries to measure various types of harms. These registries help institutions compare themselves to peers and become leaders in medical error prevention.
Some hospitals have already made changes in hopes of diminishing these kinds of mistakes. For example, Pittsburgh’s UPMC hospital has launched a system called “Condition H,” so patients can call for help from their bedside. When the patient makes the call, a rapid response team comes to help solve any possible problems, including communication breakdowns.
Communication is likely one of the largest factors in preventing medical errors and harms. Patients can be intimidated by busy doctors or other medical staff, instead of becoming their own advocates. Paying attention to what medical providers are doing and asking them questions to ensure understanding can help everyone involved in a healthcare situation pause, reflect, and develop the best course of action. Because doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are human beings and susceptible to errors, an extra set of eyes makes all the difference.
Another way that patients, especially those who have already been harmed, can protect themselves is by holding medical professionals accountable. Medical malpractice lawsuits not only help injured patients recover financially, physically, and emotionally; but also prevent future errors by the same physician or institution. Additionally, fear of liability and adverse consequences can help encourage medical professionals across the board to be more careful with, or pay closer attention to, patients and their needs.
We all have a responsibility to decrease the prevalence of preventable medical errors.
If you or someone you love has been harmed by a preventable medical mistake, call Wagner and Reese at (888) 204-8440 or contact us for a free consultation.