You’ve come across medical horror stories floating around online where patients wake up on the table during surgery, a doctor removes the wrong organ, the wrong patient receives a surgery or medical equipment is just left inside a patient. You assume those are freak accidents and that type of fatal medical error could never happen to you. However, medical errors are far more common than you think.
A study published in The BMJ shows that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., ranked even higher than car accidents, respiratory disease and stroke. The study, conducted by a professor of surgery and his team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, found that at least 251,000 people die every year from medical error. This giant death toll equates to roughly 10 percent of all deaths that occur in the U.S., and they occur due to the following reasons:
- Lack of coordinated care
- Lack of communication between departments
- Lapses in judgement
- System failures
- Failure to respond in a timely fashion
- Mistakes in diagnosis
- Preventable complications
What Can I Do to Protect Myself From Medical Errors?
Fatal medical errors are a nationwide epidemic that hospitals need to take seriously. However, there are steps you can take as a patient to help reduce the likelihood that you will be the victim of a medical error, including:
- Always opting for a local anesthetic when possible instead of general anesthesia, which can create complications
- Before every hospital procedure, make sure the staff checks your name, the patient bar code on your wristband and your date of birth
- Before any surgery begins, confirm with the doctor and nurse the correct body part and side of your body the operation is taking place on
- If a diagnosis seems questionable or requires a major procedure, always get a second opinion
- Ask for a daily list of medications you are being administered and check them as they are given to you
- When picking up a prescription, always show the medication to the pharmacist to make sure it is not the wrong medicine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does acknowledge that medical errors are underreported, according to U.S. News. The Johns Hopkins team believes that if death certificates are altered to include specific medical errors as a cause of death, more data can be gathered and preventative measures can be taken to reduce mistakes in the future. Hopefully, hospitals recognize this is a very serious issue and systematically work together to address what should be considered a nationwide safety concern.