Medical errors can result in significant harm to patients and may be responsible for causing close to 100,000 deaths in the United States annually.

What kind of mistakes commonly occur and how do they happen?

Misdiagnosis and more

There is no single source of information about medical errors because the majority are not documented. They are not found on patients’ charts. Nevertheless, the information that is available indicates that medical mistakes are among the leading causes of injury and death in the US. Often a delayed diagnosis or an incorrect diagnosis is the cause of an error. Commonly misdiagnosed conditions include stroke, pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, meningitis, lung cancer, appendicitis, septicemia and bone fractures.

How errors occur

Practitioners often err because they focus too much on a patient’s medical history and established condition instead of ruling out the possibility of a new organic issue. Medical errors may also occur if there is a language barrier between practitioner and patient. An error of omission happens if a certain action is not taken, such as stabilizing a patient on a gurney. An error of commission happens when a wrong action occurs, such as mislabeling a laboratory specimen meant for a different patient.

Top public concerns

Based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancer and heart disease get most of the attention in the world of healthcare, causing medical errors to be overlooked. Medical malpractice can range from failure to order the appropriate tests to leaving a sponge inside a patient’s body during surgery. People may underestimate the risks that exist when they seek assistance for an illness or injury, but patients and their families must hold medical professionals accountable when an error results in injury or death.