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Medical Mistakes Happen Daily, Cause Quarter Million Fatalities

By one physician's estimate, medical mistakes are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Millions are injured each year by a medical mistake and over 250,000 people die from errors by the medical care team attending to him or her.

A recent report detailed ten common medical mistakes that may rise to medical malpractice, including:

Mistaken Identity

Not all mistakes cause tangible harms to patients. For example, a CT scan performed on a woman who was three months pregnant due to a hospital mix-up of patient identities left her with no injuries. But, she had to deal with the fear that the CT scan may have caused a birth defect or leukemia in her unborn son for the remaining six months of her pregnancy. Thankfully, her son has shown no problems related to the CT.

Surgical Tools Left Inside A Patient

Taking a complete inventory of surgical implements before and after a procedure is completed seems like a simple method to avoid leaving behind a sponge or a clamp in a patient's body. But, it happens. One patient reported that a one foot by one foot sponge was left in his abdomen post-surgery. By the time it was found, it had caused perforations in his intestine.

Long Waits For Emergency Treatment

Mis-assessing patients in the emergency room, or mistakes during triage, can lead to dangerous delays in treatment. An infant lost a hand and two legs to the emergency room waiting game. She was misdiagnosed with a viral infection and left to wait for 5 hours in the ER waiting room. During that time, the real source of her emergency - a flesh-eating bacteria - took over her limbs and forced amputation to save her life.

Infection

Hospitals and clinics should be a sterile environment. Clean instruments and dressings should be used to avoid the spread of germs and the onset of infection that can worsen a patient's condition well beyond what he or she initially sought treatment for. One man with a broken leg and fractured skull never walked out of the hospital where he sought treatment. Bacteria entered his body that doctors were unable to fight and took the man's life.

Additional medical mistakes also included in the report were losing patients, lay-people impersonating medical professionals, surgeons performing an operation on the wrong body part, medical staff confusing the use of look-alike tubes and under-anesthetizing patients who then wake up during surgery.

Source: CNN, "10 shocking medical mistakes," John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, June 10, 2012

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