Study: hospital errors kill hundreds of thousands every year

Nobody ever wants to encounter a situation where an illness or injury results in hospitalization. Unfortunately, though, serious medical events are a fact of life. But, when we get sick or hurt, we trust that physicians, nurses and other hospital staff will do everything in their power to keep us safe and help us get better.

Sadly, this isn't always the case. Preventable errors in hospitals are surprisingly common. In fact, a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Patient Safety found that between 210,000 and 400,000 people in the United States are killed each year as the result of preventable errors in hospitals. Among the errors discovered were surgical errors, emergency room mistakes, medication errors, misdiagnoses and problems resulting from poor communication.

In addition, the author estimated that errors resulting in serious harm are 10 to 20 more common than errors resulting in death.

Profession addressing error reporting

Given the high rate of serious and fatal hospital errors, it is clear that something needs to be done. To that end, the medical profession is working on initiatives that would encourage doctors both to be more candid about their own errors and to report errors made by their colleagues.

In an article published in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, several leading doctors and nurses jointly proposed new guidelines for error reporting. Among their recommendations were the following:

  • When errors are committed, the first priority should be protecting the patient's right to learn the truth
  • Doctors should not fear of a medical malpractice claim get in the way of honesty
  • Clinicians who suspect an error has been committed should investigate the situation, not ignore it
  • If the investigation reveals that an error may have been committed, the clinician should properly disclose the findings

These recommendations are not yet formal rules regulating the medical profession. However, the authors hope that they will help start a conversation that could change the culture surrounding error reporting.

Pursuing medical malpractice lawsuits

When injury or death results from a medical mistake, patients and their families do not have to wait for medical professionals to take the first step. Instead, a medical malpractice attorney can be very helpful when it comes uncovering the cause of the error and advising on possible next steps.

When errors are caused by the negligence of a doctor, nurse or other medical professional, injured patients can pursue medical malpractice lawsuits. When negligent errors result in death, patients' families can sue for wrongful death. Possible damages in these lawsuits include compensation for past and future medical expense, lost income, disability, and pain and suffering.

If you or a loved one has been harmed by a medical error, talk to an experienced attorney who can help you understand your rights.