Medical knowledge has improved exponentially over the years. Doctors and researchers continue to learn more about diseases and conditions, and how to diagnose and treat patients. With all this new knowledge, it is normal for patients to expect that the quality of care has also improved over the years. But, studies published on the amount of diagnostic and surgical errors made every year are still occurring.
You know those horror stories about medical instruments being discovered in bodies post-surgery? How about the stories of patients waking up in the middle of their surgery because the anesthesiologist didn’t measure right? These nightmarish events are referred to as “never events” because they are never supposed to happen. Despite the name, more than 4,000 cases of “never events” happened annually between 1990-2010 according to a study published in the journal Surgery.
The numbers for diagnostic errors in the United States are just as surprising. According to an article from the Huffington Post, researchers estimated that somewhere between 80,000 and 160,000 people in the U.S. have been negatively impacted by misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose. Diagnostic errors are more likely to lead to death or disability for a patient because it takes much longer to recognize that a mistake was made.
Both of these medical mistakes can change a patient’s life. A surgical mistake could result in additional medical attention or medication that the patients wouldn’t have been subject to before, and this in turn would add on to the medical bills and time away from work. For patients who are misdiagnosed, or not diagnosed at all, a detrimental condition could affect their quality of life for months or years before it is correctly treated — even worse, the condition could be serious enough to kill the patient before it is discovered.
An article from Everyday Health explores in more detail about how surgical “never events” affect patients, physicians, and the healthcare system. A research team from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine analyzed medical malpractice claims to gather information.
According to the lead researcher, this research is an attempt to make “all of that information public [so] patients will not have to walk in to a hospital blind…they’ll know the quality of care in their hospital and the hospital, most importantly, will be held accountable.”
The study revealed that of the total surgical “never events” in one year, 6.6 percent lead to the death of a patient, 33 percent lead to permanent injury to the patients, and about 60 percent caused short-term injury. The compensation required to right these medical malpractices came to $1.3 billion.
Exactly what types of mistakes are being made here? A weekly break down of the surgical errors revealed 30 cases of foreign objects left in patients and 20 cases of surgery conducted in the wrong part of the body. These mistakes were made more than once by 12.4 percent of medical practitioners.
One can only speculate on the reasons why these terrible mistakes happen so frequently. There could be serious communication issues in the hospital, resulting in surgeons operating on the wrong part of the body or performing a completely different surgery. Surgeons could be personally blamed for leaving instruments in bodies, a mistake that seems completely absurd and preventable. Regardless of the reasons why these mistakes happen, they probably shouldn’t happen at all.
Protocol has been put in place in an attempt to reduce the frequency of the surgical “never events” including properly marking surgery sites with ink, enforcing the use of checklists and electronic bar codes, and keeping a count of surgical instruments before and directly after surgery.
But, even with these improvements, doctors insist, “more regulation is needed.” One doctor encourages complete transparency by hospitals and doctors, stating that it will enable consumers to hold their hospitals accountable and make medical practice safer and more honest.
In regards to diagnostic errors, there is more evidence to refer to in order to explain why such a serious mistake is made so often. An article from Power Your Practice takes a look at the three most common reasons for diagnostic mistakes.
The number one mistake, which accounts for 78% of diagnostic errors, is the failure to properly review a patient’s medical history. This can mostly be attributed to the flawed system for transferring patients’ medical records from hospital to hospital — doctors often don’t have all the information they need to properly diagnose a patient.
In order to avoid misdiagnosis, a doctor must have a patient’s complete chart and medical history, but some of a patient’s most vital information can get lost in transfer.
Doctor –patient communication comes in at number two, as themost common cause of misdiagnosis. Sometimes, patients don’t communicate symptoms in a way that allows the doctor to properly determine what is wrong. The responsibility lies with the doctor to be completely thorough and ask the appropriate questions during an exam — patients shouldn’t be expected to tell the doctor exactly what is wrong, they went to the doctor to find out exactly what’s wrong.
Rolling in at number three is cognitive errors made by physicians during the diagnosis process. In simpler terms, doctors sometimes fail to reason properly when making a diagnosis. The most common reasoning error for doctors is closing the diagnostic process too early, not even taking the correct diagnosis into consideration. The doctor will assign an unthreatening diagnosis to patients, such as the common cold, before the more serious symptoms appear. As long as doctors continue to “keep visits short and make decisions on the run” these mistakes will continue to happen, leading to injury and fatality for patients.
Doctors, surgeons, and nurses are human and humans make mistakes. But, mistakes that can be prevented with proper communication, and safety protocol, are mistakes that medical practitioners should be held legally responsible for. If you, or someone you love, has suffered due to a surgical error or misdiagnosis in Missouri don’t hesitate to contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer.
The medical malpractice attorneys at the Finney Law Office, LLC are always available to answer your questions and address your concerns regarding medical care you’ve received.