Five of the Most Common Medical Errors That are Preventable

Based on a report by the National Academy of Sciences, medical errors hurt countless Americans annually and cost billions of dollars every year in increased health costs. Unfortunately, more than 200,000 people pass away from avoidable medical mistakes each year.

The following prevail avoidable medical errors:

Medication errors

Considered the most common kind of medical error, it is also the most preventable. Errors include appointing medication based upon small details. They can also happen due to the absence of existing warnings, in addition to miscommunications based on lousy handwriting. To prevent this problem, you must understand precisely what you are taking, just how much of it, and what you can not take.

Poor communication

The 2nd most common medical error originates from poor communication between doctor and client, in addition to communication in between a doctor and other healthcare service providers. With a vast selection of patients to monitor, tests to carry out, in addition to laboratory results and patient history’s to examine, the possibility of miscommunication to happen is high. It is up to you to help the doctor remember every test you have any details in your case history.


While we expect healthcare facilities to have important sanitation and hygiene measures, they are actually among the most likely places to receive an infection. Given the high amounts of individuals with numerous infections checking out every day, employees can become contaminated. Be sure to practice efficient health and ask your doctor if she or he cleaned their hands after going to the last client.

Lab errors

Wrong test results can cause an incorrect diagnosis and incorrect treatment, while the initial health problem or injury continues to linger. Kinds of common lab errors include MRI or CT taken improperly, samples taken incorrectly, or results misinterpreted. If you think that your laboratory outcomes are incorrect, you deserve to ask for another lab test to confirm.

Pharmacy errors

According to a report by CNN, 30 million Americans are the victim of outpatient medication errors each year. With lots of patients every day, drug stores have the propensity to make mistakes on your medication. To prevent this kind of medical error, understand exactly what your doctor recommended and just how much before making a trip to the pharmacy.

Medical Errors are the 3rd Leading Cause of Death – Here’s How To Prevent Them

It is astonishing that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in America. The most recent data indicates that 251,000 deaths are due to medical errors, a frightening number. Every person should be concerned about this.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published that 98,000 deaths occurred annually due to medical errors. This was just an estimate and of course, they suggested more studies to confirm this.

Recently, investigators at Johns Hopkins Medical Center updated those 1999 figures. They reviewed 4 studies of patients from throughout America between 2000 and 2008, representing over 37 million admissions to hospitals. Medical errors included mistake in medication administration (too much, too little, or given to the wrong patient), incorrect medical plan (patients got the wrong plan for their illness), failure in executing an order, physicians’ omitting something that should have been done or ordered doing something incorrect, and medical actions that did not produce the intended benefit for the patients.

Fatal errors occurred in 0.71% of these hospital admissions. This percent seems small, but it means that among all hospital admissions in America, 251,000 patients would die annually. And to put this in perspective, 614,000 patients die from heart disease and 591,000 from cancer, making medical errors the third leading cause of death. More people die from medical errors than from lung diseases (147,000 deaths), from stroke (133,000 deaths) or from accidents (136,000 deaths).

In another study at Massachusetts General Hospital, one of the nation’s best medical centers, 45% of all surgeries from 2013 to 2014 had drug errors or unintended drug side effects. These included incorrect labeling or dose, or medications ordered but not give. Astonishingly, there was a medication error in 1 of every 20 medications and about 1 of every 2 surgical operations.

To make these estimates even more frightening, the studies did not include patients receiving outpatient care in their doctors’ offices. Even additional errors, a few of them fatal, probably occur in non-hospital settings. But we have not data to precisely estimate this risk.

What can patients do to protect themselves? Here are Dr. Cary’s suggestions for you.

• Be certain you have a good physician who will answer all your questions and will give you detailed advice.
• In preparing for surgery, you should ask your surgeon about her/his experience with the operation that is planned: how many does she/he do, what is the complication rate, and what is the mortality rate. Ask what steps will be taken to prevent any medical errors.
• If you are not satisfied with the answers, get a second opinion before any surgery is done. For advice on when and where to get second opinions, see my website and book Surviving American Medicine.
• At the hospital, check every medication you are given to be sure it is your medicine, and you know why it is being given.
• Before surgery, personally meet the anesthesiologist and ask what measures she/he will take to avoid errors. Be sure the physician, rather than just a nurse, is giving your anesthesia.
• And if you are having an operation on an arm or leg or breast, take the time to write on the arm (or leg or breast) “this one” and on the other “not this one”. Silly maybe, but better to be safe than sorry!
• When any physician tells you what will be done to help you treat any condition, be certain to ask what alternatives exist and what the benefits and risks of each treatment will be. Get a list of all side effects of any new medication that is prescribed.
• Check with the pharmacist to be sure that no adverse or dangerous interactions may occur between a new medicine you will receive and all other prescriptions and even over-the-counter pills you are taking.
• Review your condition on the internet to get trusted information about the illness, usual treatments, and side effects. The more information you can take to your doctor, the better the questions you can ask and the better your care will be. For a list of trusted internet sites for any condition, see my website and book Surviving American Medicine.
• Remember to have another person (family member or friend) with you in the medical office or in the hospital to be certain all questions have been asked and answered, and that you understand everything.
• Review your medical records. Your physician probably has an electronic health record with your health information and latest visit note. Your hospital can provide you with copies of your physician and consultant notes from your admission. Read these carefully, because any errors (in family history, medications, allergies, past illnesses, treatments received) can be carried forward and account for subsequent errors in your treatment. Ask the doctors or hospital to correct any errors before they harm you.

Medical errors are not rare. Be an active part of your treatment team to be sure you are a survivor, not a victim.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Cary Presant and do not represent the opinions of the City of Hope or any other organizations.  


Ten Ways to Reduce Medication Errors

  1. Move rapidly to electronic medical records and computerized physician ordering, eliminating handwritten medical records and physician orders.
  2. Institute fail-safe tracking of medications to ensure that the right medication gets to the right patient at the right time. Do the same for laboratory tests.
  3. Expand use of protocols and guidelines to ensure that best practices are standardized and carried out.
  4. Maintain the practice of unit dosing for medications — i.e. the preparation in the pharmacy of each medication dose for each patient.
  5. Standardize medication procedures such as limiting the number and standardizing dose strengths of each medication, as well as times of medication administration, protocols for use of hazardous drugs, medication terminology, and names of drugs.
  6. Make it difficult or impossible for a person to do something wrong by “error proofing” — e.g. like the current use of different connections for oxygen and nitrous gas tanks to anesthesia machines so one will not fit the other.
  7. Implement bar-coding of medications and patients so that both are positively identified before a drug is given.
  8. Involve pharmacists directly in health care on the nursing unit level.
  9. Involve patients in the care process wherever possible, ensuring they understand all the medications, treatments and tests they are to receive so they can be active partners with physicians and nurses in preventing errors by verifying that they are getting the right medications or other treatments. Allow patients to self-administer pain medications.
  10. Apply information management technology as aggressively to patient management as it currently is to financial management.
The recommendations on this list are examples of the kinds of actions that will be recommended by Dr. Lucian Leape at “Examining Errors in Health Care: Developing a Prevention, Education and Research Agenda,” to be held October 13-15, 1996, at the Annenberg Center for Health Sciences at Eisenhower, Rancho Mirage, California. One of the nation’s leading experts in health care quality and a pediatric surgeon, Dr. Leape currently is Adjunct Professor of Health Policy at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is also leading an error prevention initiative for the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.