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Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death: Part II

In part I of this piece, reference was made to an article in NPR News detailing the fact that a new study names medical errors as the third leading cause of death in the United States. Part I delved into the issue of cause-of-death reporting, and raising more awareness about a lack of an effective reporting system that allows for cause of death to be recorded as error. Part II of this article seeks to understand why medical mistakes happen, what types of medical errors are most common, and the rights that patients have when medical errors occur.

Why Medical Mistakes Happen

The NPR post cited above states that 250,000 Americans die from medical errors every year, meaning that medical errors kill more people than do respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.

Medical mistakes happen for a variety of reasons. One of the most common reasons is that there is a breakdown along the line of communication. This breakdown may occur between a doctor and their patient, between nurses and a doctor, between nurses changing shifts, between an operating room team, or between a hospital and a long-term care facility. Another reason may be that nurses and doctors are overworked, meaning that they do not have enough time to order proper diagnostic tests, take blood work, or really learn (or understand) about a patient’s symptoms. Medical mistakes are often a result of plain poor judgment, too.

What Types of Medical Mistakes Are Most Common?

Some medical mistakes are more common – and more costly – than are others. According to the 2015 Medscape Malpractice report, the majority of malpractice lawsuits involve failure to diagnose cases, i.e. a doctor fails to diagnose a patient with a serious illness, such as cancer, leading to the patient’s demise. Other common types of medical errors include failure to treat, poor patient education, medication errors, and surgical errors.

What Rights Do Patients Have After a Medical Error?

The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of medical errors to zero. However, that number is 250,000 fewer errors that result in fatal harm than is the current reality. For these patients, or their surviving family members, taking legal action is a viable option for recovering damages. While nothing can undo an injury, especially if that injury is fatal, filing a medical malpractice action when a medical error results in patient harm can increase awareness about the prevalence of malpractice. Hopefully, with increased awareness, more resources will be allocated to the prevention of medical errors.

Filing a medical malpractice tort also allows a victim, or a family member of a victim, to recover compensation for medical expenses and hospital bills, future healthcare expenses, lost wages and benefits, funeral and burial expenses, loss of consortium, pain and suffering, and more.

At Bertram & Amell, our hardworking Washington D.C. medical malpractice attorneys feel for you and your family. If you have questions about malpractice or think that you may have a suit, contact us for a free case consultation today.

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