Common Medical Errors Lead to Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

Medical errors are the leading cause of medical malpractice lawsuits. While it is impossible to avoid some medical errors, healthcare providers need to review their procedures closely to identify any weaknesses that could lead to problems.

Errors at Your Doctor’s Office

When people think of medical malpractice errors, they envision a person injured in a hospital setting. Injuries are just as common at your family practice doctor’s office. In times past, registered nurses assisted doctors with their patients. Increasingly, doctors use medical assistants, who require less formal training in registered nurses. In a busy office, lack of formalized training could create problems and the potential for medical errors.

Among small family physician practices, the most common types of errors reported involve ordering the right prescription, matching proper lab tests with the right patient, inadequate or improper decisions made from interpreting lab results, improper dispensing of medications, and filing errors.

Hospitals and Medical Malpractice Errors

Nursing shortages affect hospitals around the nation. This leaves nurses on duty, with more patients to care for than in times past. One can imagine a likely scenario where a nurse caring for more patients than is advisable grabs the wrong medication. The doctor orders a lab test and a lab worker mistakenly places the results in the wrong patient file. While these scenarios are not based on any true story, similar errors have been made repeatedly in similar situations.

Medical errors cause over 97,000 deaths each year. This number is staggering. Eliminating errors is crucial. In the past, many medical treatment facilities avoided compiling information to help them understand the conditions that made error probability rise. Fortunately, most healthcare facilities are now taking a proactive path in dealing with this problem. Hospitals can deal with this potentially devastating problem by identifying the most common types of errors, differentiating errors that cause patient harm, and understanding the problems that led to the errors.

Errors Caused by Using the Medication

The critical care needed by hospital patients makes these centers the most likely place where an individual could become the victim of a medical error. By far, the most common error reported in hospitals involves some type of error with medications.

There are three commonly reported types of medication errors in hospitals. Omission errors include not giving a patient and ordered medication or giving the wrong dosage. Wrong prescription orders make up about two thirds of all reported medication errors. Fortunately, these types of errors do not usually cause patient harm.

Only 2% of errors result in patient harm. Harmful medication errors include improper flushing of an IV line, activating a drug activation system improperly, using a wrong method of introducing a medication to the patient, and giving a patient the wrong dosage of medication. The problems that often lead to these errors come from failure to follow proper training, not following procedures, and recording wrong information in patient files. Most of these errors do not lead to medical malpractice lawsuits.

Once a hospital can identify these errors, management can work with staff to employ effective solutions. Avoiding medical errors is better for hospitals, staff, and patients alike.

Being Proactive New to Eliminate Errors is the Best Approach

Some hospitals have developed innovative solutions to medication errors. Scanning tags placed on medications, and patient identification tags allow nurses to make sure that the correct medications and dosages are given to patients, and proper information is placed in patient computer files. Nurses are increasingly given fewer patients to care for during their shifts. Hospitals are hiring more staff to avoid nursing shortages.

Errors in the lab can lead to medical mistakes. Lab workers must remember to verify the test that has been ordered, and match it with the proper patient file.

Medical errors are not limited hospitals. Family physicians and other doctors also are at risk for medical errors in their private practices. Increasingly, physicians use medical assistants for tasks that were formerly performed by registered nurses. Physicians must ensure their staffs are well-trained

Patient files are trusted sources of a patient’s medical information. Ensuring that the correct information is placed in each patient's file is crucial in the fight against errors. Medical office professionals need to develop proactive ways to combat file errors. Administrative errors can be avoided by proper employee training and effective computer software programs.

Pharmacies are also at risk for medical errors. Proper procedures must be followed, and staff should be well-trained to avoid prescription dispensing errors.

Medical errors can cause harm to patients and lead to financially damaging medical malpractice lawsuits for healthcare providers. With the increasing difficulty and cost of obtaining medical malpractice insurance, healthcare providers must do whatever it takes to decrease the number and severity of medical errors. Patients’ lives depend on them.