A medical error can be difficult to identify for a patient who lacks medical training. According to some estimates, medical mistakes claim as many as 250,000 American lives every year and lead to millions more injuries. A preventable medical mistake is unacceptable, yet extremely common. Before undergoing treatment or signing off on a medical procedure, patients should arm themselves with knowledge about what to expect. A recent report has highlighted ten avoidable medical mistakes and methods patients can use to avoid them.
The mistakes highlighted include the following:
- Treatment performed on the wrong patient
- Surgical tools or other objects left inside a patient after surgery
- Patients becoming lost
- Unlicensed people posing as doctors
- Patients being left in emergency room waiting areas too long
- Air bubbles introduced into the blood stream
- Operations on the wrong body part
- Hospital acquired infections
- Medical treatment inserted into incorrect tube
- Anesthesia under-dosing
Hospital acquired infections are among the most common, and among the easiest to correct, errors that can lead to serious harm. Doctors and nurses are taught proper hand-washing and sterilization practices, but they may not always take the time to follow them. When hospitals have made elimination of these infections a priority, they have generally been successful in greatly reducing the number of patients who get an infection during the course of their treatment. The success of these programs shows just how unacceptable it is for a hospital or medical facility to engage in unsterile practices.
The best way for patients to protect themselves is to research and to speak up when they feel there might be a problem. If you are not sure if your doctor or nurse has properly washed his or her hands, you should feel free to ask. Before a drug is administered, make sure the dose has been checked and that the medication is truly intended to treat you. Learn about any surgical procedure before choosing a hospital and ask questions about the doctor’s experience in handling that procedure.
Source: CNN Health, “10 shocking medical mistakes,” by John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, 5 November 2012