Medical Error – Facts and Figures You Should Know

by | Aug 24, 2021 | Medical Malpractice, Medication Errors | 0 comments

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Overview

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” ― Albert Einstein.

It is quite natural for every Tom, Dick, and Harry to commit errors. But when your physician does a mistake, it could even cost your life. Every decision and action of a medical professional could have consequential imprints on the health and life of the patient.

Definition of Medical Error

The term medical error refers to a preventable adverse event or a negative outcome caused by an error committed by a physician, a nurse or any other healthcare professional involved in the patient care.

As per the reports of the World Health Organization (WHO), medical error leads to 2.6 million deaths in low-and middle-income countries around the globe.

Research studies suggest that after heart disease and cancer medical errors are the third-leading source of fatalities in the United States. Another data indicates that one in twenty patients is affected by medical errors that could have been prevented. Trillions of U.S dollars are lost every year to compensate for medical error claims.

What are the Types of Medical Errors?

Well, response to that query cannot be fenced in easily. A medical error could turn up anywhere in any form during the treatment. Rather than sketching the types of medical error, it would be more fitting to report it as the most commonly reported preventable medical errors. They are mentioned below.

  • Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis
  • Surgical Errors
  • Infections
  • Medication Errors
  • Substandard Medical Devices

Let’s dig deeper into medical error and the resulting med mal lawsuits in the United States.

Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis occur when a healthcare professional misinterprets or fails to diagnose an illness. For instance, a cardiac issue could be interpreted as asthma or indigestion, or a pulmonary embolism could be diagnosed very late.

It is estimated that each year in the U.S. over 12 million adults in outpatient medical care receive a misdiagnosis of their illness. 44% of the cancer types are often misdiagnosed. Women and children are 20 to 30 % more likely to be misdiagnosed.

Misdiagnosis may occur when the physician

  • Diagnoses one condition but fails to realize that there is a need for a second diagnosis
  • Fails to screen for a particular medical condition
  • Fails to refer the patient to a specialist
  • Misinterprets the lab test results
  • Fails to properly follow up the symptoms

Studies suggest that all of us would experience a diagnostic error in our lifetime, some may end up in minor harm and others with devastating consequences. A misdiagnosis does not need to occur only in certain specialties. It may occur in emergency medicine, radiology, or any other medical-subspecialties.

71.2% of the diagnostic errors are reported to occur in ambulatory settings, especially in outpatient clinics or emergency departments. Emergency rooms are obvious in the picture as a patient reporting to an ER would be in the early stage of the illness and the presentation of clinical symptoms would be less evident. This makes it more prone to diagnostic errors.

The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine (SIDM) indicate that the top misdiagnosed vascular disease is stroke, the top misdiagnosed infection is sepsis and the top misdiagnosed cancer is lung cancer. SIDM has identified the following as major causes of diagnostic errors.

  • Lack of proper communication
  • Limited time
  • Complicated diagnostic process
  • Limited support to help with clinical reasoning
  • Lack of proper feedbacks and measures
  • Lack of research funds

Complications of Diagnostic Error

Misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis of an illness could end up in the below-mentioned complications

  • Unnecessary medications
  • Surgical procedures
  • Increased treatment cost
  • Complications
  • Emotional distress
  • Death

Either it is a misdiagnosis or delay in diagnosis when the patient is harmed, it could bring up a lawsuit for medical malpractice.  With the help of a medical malpractice attorney, the claimant has to prove that a physician in a similar specialty would not have misdiagnosed the illness. This is done with expert testimony providing a differential diagnosis about the subject’s illness.

Medical malpractice lawsuit for misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis is usually filed against the physician and in some instances against nurses, lab techs, and other specialists involved in the treatment. Damages caused to the claimant including pain and suffering, cost of medical bills, loss of earning capacity, and loss of enjoyment, etc. could be claimed in a misdiagnosis lawsuit.

Surgical Errors

Surgical errors are another class of commonly encountered medical errors. It often results in life-threatening complications leaving the patient in pain and distress. Reports point out that at least 4000 surgical error cases occur each year in the United States.

Types of Surgical Errors

The following are the common surgical errors encountered.

  • Operating on the wrong body part
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Accidental incisions
  • Nerve damages
  • Post-operative infections
  • Amputation errors
  • Inadequate follow-ups after surgery

Surgical Error Complications

Surgical error is not just about the wrong surgery. It also leads to complications like

  • Scarring
  • Disfigurement
  • Need for corrective surgeries
  • Internal bleeding
  • Disability
  • Organ failure
  • Death

Surgical errors contribute to most of the medical malpractice lawsuits in the U.S. However fighting a surgical error lawsuit is much more complicated than you assume. With the help of medical malpractice lawyers, it would be stress-free for the victims to pursue lawsuits against the surgeons, hospitals, and insurance providers.

The claimant should prove that a preventable error had happened in the surgical procedure. The surgeon should have failed to follow the appropriate standard of care. The error should have caused damage to the victim. This is usually done with the support of another medical professional who provides testimony after analyzing the surgery.

Depending upon the damages sustained by the claimant, he may receive compensation through a successful medical malpractice lawsuit. However, the legal proceedings for a surgical error lawsuit may vary from one state to the other.

Infections

Infections are another type of medical error that may arise in a patient due to the negligence of the healthcare professionals or the hospital environment. Hospital-Acquired Infection (HAI) is a type of infection caused due to the lack of sterility and cleanliness of the treatment facility. When an infection is identified 48 hours after hospital admittance, it is considered as HAI. The patient may contract the infection through unsterilized ventilators, catheters, surgical instruments, etc.

The CDC reports that hospital infections give rise to 90,000 fatalities annually. Approximately 1 in 25 U.S. patients acquire at least one infection during their hospital care.  Infections result in an estimated 205,000 additional hospital days for infected patients causing an extra $2 billion towards hospital charges.

HAIs can happen in the following healthcare setting.

  • Outpatient facilities
  • Ambulatory surgical centers
  • Dialysis centers
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Nursing homes

Immunocompromised individuals and infants are also more susceptible to infections and related complications which may include

  • Septic shock
  • Blood clots
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Organ failure

Infection of the surgical site by Staphylococcus is one of the most commonly reported infection-related medical errors. This often causes serious complications in the patients, when not treated immediately.

Osteomyelitis is another infection that is often reported as a medical error in the U.S. It is caused by bacterial or fungal infections contracted during procedures like orthopedic surgery. When left untreated, it may spread to other body parts leading to acute infection. Failure to address Osteomyelitis may even end up in amputation which is a common medical malpractice claim.

It is a risky affair to proceed with a lawsuit involving infection as it is tough to prove the root cause of an infection. If the infection is an evident HAI, not associated with the preexisting illness of the claimant, the healthcare provider could be sued for the damages sustained by the claimant. Infection lawsuits are more often focused on the failure of the physician or the healthcare provider to address the infection on time by providing adequate medical care.

Medication Errors

It is estimated that nearly one-third of adults in the U.S take five or more medications. That makes medication error another extensively reported medical error. Medication errors themselves cost an estimated $42 billion annually.

Prescribing the wrong medication, wrong dose, interactions between the prescribed drugs everything is considered as a medication error. For instance wrong dosage of the anticoagulant drug, heparin may cause either serious bleeding complications or clotting risks. Hence it is considered as one of the high-risk medications by the medical community.

When a patient is harmed as a result of a medication, it is termed as an Adverse Drug Event (ADE). Each year, nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations are caused due to ADE. A medication error may occur at any time during ordering, dispensing, or administration of the medication.

The liability of a medication error may be in the physician, nurse, or pharmacist when the medical error arises during the prescription or dispensing of the medication. However, the pharmaceutical company could be sued for mislabeling and packaging faults. Prescriptions and bills act as crucial evidence in medical error related to medications. Getting legal advice from a skilled medical malpractice lawyer would help the claimant in a better claim.

Substandard Medical Devices

Medical error is committed by healthcare professionals is just one side of the coin. Another side is the harm caused to the patients by defective medical devices used in the treatment. A medical device can be any material or device that is implanted inside or outside the body. This may include surgical tools, hernia mesh, vaginal mesh, hip implants, IVC blood clot filters, etc.

The manufacturing, marketing, and regulation of medical devices in the U.S is controlled by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). With 510(k) approval process of the FDA, companies manufacturing medical devices could avoid a full-scale review of their products before it reaches the market. Medical devices are categorized as Class I, II and III. The low-risk devices come under class I whereas the high-risk medical devices come under class III.

When the patient is harmed by a defective medical device used in the treatment, he can file a product liability lawsuit against the company that had manufactured the product. The defect and the outcomes should also be reported to the FDA. The claimant is entitled to receive compensation depending upon the damages he had sustained because of the medical device.

Medical expenses, loss of consortium, emotional distress, loss of income, etc. are some of the recoverable damages that come under a defective medical device lawsuit.

Conclusion

Advancements in medical technologies act as a double-edged sword, making the treatment of an illness more accurate and complicated at the same time.

While addressing a medical error like post-surgery bleeding, it should be kept in mind that it need not always be the surgeon’s error. It may also occur if the patient is susceptible to bleeding.

Fatal medical error incidents are always used to mirror the scale of the issue. However, some of them cause harm to the patient and are not life-threatening. With that note, I am not trying to lessen the gravity of a medical error.

Safe and effective medical care is the right of every individual. WHO is focusing global attention on medical errors by launching campaigns and awareness programs. As a part of it, World Patient Safety Day is observed on the 17th of September.

The fact of the matter is that each of us must be advocates for our own health.  Clarify with your healthcare professional when encountering any troubles in the medical treatment. Never hesitate or pause to get legal support if any medical error is suspected. This would help you to meet up the medical expenses by getting a deserving compensation.

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