When we watch hospital dramas on television, the portrayal of the health care industry moves to the backburner, so that love triangles and character development can take center stage. Some of the stories seem outrageous or impossible, like when surgeons leave their instruments in a patient’s body cavity, or a patient dies because of a misdiagnosis. Surprisingly, these medical errors have really happened, and continue to take place today.
A medical error is a preventable, adverse effect of care. They can occur anywhere in the health care system, including hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, doctors’ offices, assisted living facilities, pharmacies, and patients’ homes. There are many types of medical errors, and if not properly caught, the outcome can be catastrophic. Some of the most common medical errors include misdiagnosis, medication errors, pressure ulcers (bed sores), and post-op infections. The errors you see in the news are typically more extreme than those listed above, but medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States — that’s almost 700 people a day!
If you’re pursuing a career in the medical field, these medical error stories will be especially relevant to you. Keep these in mind, whether you’re an aspiring pharmacy technician, a medical office manager, or you want to become a certified risk adjustment coder and focus on reviewing diagnoses and documentation for errors. It’s important for all health care providers to know how to detect and correct medical errors as they encounter problems within patient cases. What are medical error examples? Here are four cases of medical errors and the strategies that could have prevented them.
1. Ask questions like your job depends on it
Whether it’s a question about proper treatment, medication errors, or even the name of the patient, it never hurts to ask questions. Patients have lost incorrect body parts and have even been given the wrong organs in a transplant. Something similar happened in 2003 when 17-year-old Jesica Santillan tragically received a heart and lung transplant from a donor with an incompatible blood type. Don’t be hesitant to ask a nurse (or physician) to read what they’ve transcribed in a chart. They have multiple patients and patient information can easily be mixed up. Ask patients if you are able. They’re likely to know their allergies and blood type, even if someone else has missed it!
2. The zero in front of a decimal point is your friend
Let’s say a patient needs 0.25 mg of a specific medication. If this medicine is written or filled in a hurry, someone can easily misconstrue this as 25 mg. Depending on what’s prescribed, the patient could experience adverse reactions. This is a common error that happens nearly every day, even to celebrities! In 2007, Dennis and Kimberly Quaid’s newborn twins received a dangerously high overdose of an anticoagulant, which led to a malpractice lawsuit. They quickly received treatment and are in good health 11 years later.
3. Wash your hands, especially in between patient contact
This may seem like common sense, but according to a recent survey by the American Society for Microbiology, nearly 95 percent of the population fails to wash their hands long enough to kill bacteria after using the restroom. In the medical field, taking the time to wash your hands can help prevent infections from spreading. We didn’t always know this, though. During the mid 19th century, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis
found that handwashing with chlorinated water greatly reduced the risk of fever and death in the maternity clinic at the General Hospital in Vienna, which led to criticisms from his colleagues, but years later we know he was right.
4. Always double-check procedures
Procedure checks should be done before the previous shift leaves for the day. That way, you’ll understand everything that’s already happened to the patients, before continuing to help them get better. In 2008, Dr. David Ring completed his last procedure of the day with a fresh surgical team. The patient came in for an operation on her finger, but Ring performed a carpal tunnel operation on her wrist, but returned to complete the finger surgery as well. Everything turned out OK, but we bet every person on that team, Ring included, stops to review each patient’s treatment before starting a new shift.
Even well-trained medical professionals can make serious mistakes. How can we prevent medical errors? It’s important to practice error-preventing habits, whether you’re filling prescriptions, transcribing physicians’ notes, or interacting with patients. Follow ed2go for more stories and insights on growing your career in the medical field. Are you a medical professional? Share some of your best practices in the comments!