According to researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Every year, over 250,000 people die due to preventable medical errors, with only heart disease and cancer claiming more lives each year. This means that medical errors are deadlier than car accidents in the United States.
In many modern hospitals, communication methods are outdated, clunky, glitchy, or prone to error and lack of oversight. Your doctor may prescribe a treatment that has to pass through a nurse, then a form, then a data entry person, then another nurse, then the specialist performing the treatment. Like the old game of “telephone” there are too many places where error can creep into the system, resulting in a garbled message.
Other mistakes happen when a medical professional fails to use the communication system already in place. For example, a nurse may give a dose of a medication, but fail to record it. A doctor may discover a symptom, but fail to add it to the analysis. Doctors don’t read nurses’ notes, Nurses don’t see doctors’ notes. A surgeon doesn’t hear from the nephrologist and doesn’t bother to reach out. One recent study suggests that this type of hospital mistake happens so often that hundreds of thousands of people die every year due to this type of malpractice.
Hospital mistakes caused by people not caring
Perhaps the most disturbing type of malpractice is when an error happens simply because somebody didn’t care enough – or didn’t think it was important enough – to do their job the right way. All too often a patient will inform his or her doctors, nurses, and other care specialists about concerns such as allergies, only to have the professional do nothing about it, assuming it’s somebody elses’ job to make a note, check the record, etc.
Sometimes the old culture of doctors are too good to listen and the nurses are too afraid to speak up still prevails. It used to be fairly common that doctors would dismiss the advice and experience of nurses. Consequently nurses would simply keep things to themselves, not wanting to put their necks on the line for the sake of a stranger. This culture found its way into the forms of many hospitals, where doctors notes and recommendations are kept in separate sections from those of nurses. This can only lead to mistakes as care professionals then have to read and compare two sections – two different records – and mentally track the condition of the patient, often in a high-pressure situation such as an emergency room.
In the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, that’s exactly what happened. The Dallas hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, has one section on its electronic forms for nurses’ records, and then a second section for doctors’ notes. This division of data, along with a lack of team communication and verbal notice, led to a mistake that has cost a life, and endangered countless others.
A well-designed system will eliminate problems like relying on doctors’ handwriting, segregating care from different professionals, and will affirmatively inform medical team members whenever a change is made to a patients records. But these systems are only as good as professionals let them be. An uncaring medical professional can have the best medical care system in the world and make no use of it at all.
Legal recourse for victims of hospital mistakes
When a medical professional makes a mistake, it’s sometimes called malpractice. The standard for malpractice is when a health care provider fails to provide a standard level of care, and thus causes harm to a patient. Both a substandard level of care and real harm must be proved in order for you to recover damages. In the case of a death due to medical malpractice, a wrongful death suit may be appropriate.
Should you have questions about the level of care you have received at a hospital, or questions about a hospital mistake, contact us today. We’re here to help