Hospital Mistakes Are More Common Than You Think


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Imagine, after years of chronic pain, being assured by your doctor that a knee replacement surgery will alleviate your discomfort and put a spring back in your step, but upon waking up in the hospital recovery room you realize that the surgery was performed on your good knee.  Imagine that you are a young mother expecting triplets.  When the time comes, you deliver three healthy baby girls, but while recuperating in the maternity ward, a nurse mistakenly administers an adult dose of morphine to one of your daughters instead of you, nearly killing her.  With all of the education and training that medical professionals receive, it may seem like these types of hospital mistakes would be few and far between, but that isn’t the case. 

Common Hospital Mistakes

When you have to go to the hospital, for yourself or someone you love, you don’t expect to have to worry about mistakes happening, but statistics show that you do.  Though there are many more, some of the most common errors made in hospitals are:

  • Misdiagnoses – The most common type of medical mistake.  A misdiagnosis can result in delayed or incorrect treatment for patients.
  • Delayed treatment – This occurs in busy, over-crowded emergency rooms, where patients are required to wait as their condition escalates and they remain un-triaged and untreated, when timely attention and treatment could have prevented further complications or injury.
  • Treating the wrong patient – There are instances where a patient identification isn’t checked, or they are misidentified and are given another patient’s medication, or taken for tests or surgery meant for someone else.
  • Medication mistakes – Medication errors are some of the most common adverse events to occur in hospitals.  Patients are given the wrong medication, the wrong dose, or medication is forgotten. 
  • Uncoordinated care – Attending physicians and specialists come and go, and their only means of communication is the patient chart.  If the chart is not read completely and thoroughly, various doctors may order treatments that are contraindicated. 
  • Wrong site is treated – This happens when a patient's chart is incorrect, a surgeon misreads it, or surgical draping obscures marks that indicate the correct site for the operation.
  • Something is left inside a patient - Sponges, surgical tools, and even scissors are left in patients’ bodies after surgery. 
  • Infections – These occur when medical staff fails to wash their hands properly.  Infection can invade incisions, catheter sites, and other wounds.

How Common Are Hospital Mistakes?

It is hard to know exactly how often errors occur in hospitals, because many are not reported.  It is estimated that less than 1% of medical errors are known to patients.  It is known that 1 in 1500 abdominal surgeries result in a surgical sponge or tool being left inside a patient; and that over 1300 surgeries each year are performed on the wrong-side/wrong-site, or wrong-procedure/wrong-patient.  Hospital-acquired infections affect 2.2 million people each year, and medication mistakes account for 7,000 deaths annually.  These statistics are scary enough, but it is also estimated that 1 in 10 patients who die within the first 90 days after surgery die due to surgical errors.  Looking at these numbers, it is

easy to see why it is estimated that 1 in 3 patients will be the victim of hospital negligence of some sort; and why a study done by the Journal of Patient Safety finds that 440,000 are losing their lives to it each year. 

How do You Know if Your Hospital Made a Mistake?  

Some medical mistakes are obvious, like the two cases in the beginning of this article, but sometimes it’s hard to determine whether or not your hospital has been truly negligent.  Medical situations sometimes have bad outcomes, and a bad outcome is not the same as negligence.  There are some indicators that mistakes have been made, and they are as follows:

  • Your condition isn’t improving – If your treatment seems ineffective, that could indicate a misdiagnosis, or that the treatment provided isn’t the right one for you.  If your condition doesn’t seem to be improving after surgery, it may indicate that something went wrong during the procedure.
  • No tests beyond the lab test – If your entire diagnosis is based on a single lab test, you could be looking at a problem.  More tests might be necessary.
  • A common test wasn’t performed – If there is a “standard” procedure or test associated with a diagnosis, you should have received it.
  • Your questions are ignored – You have the right to know what’s going on with your situation. If your questions are ignored, or medical professionals are reluctant to provide you with information, you might be facing a situation in which they know something went wrong, but are not telling you.
  • Your diagnosis seems delayed – In some cases, a professional might have missed obvious signs and delayed your diagnosis to the point where it is too late to effectively treat your condition.
  • Health care providers fail to follow up – Your health care provider should follow up with you. If they don’t, and you are left on your own, especially if you are unsure of how to properly care for your condition, that is usually a bad sign.

What Should You Do Now?

Hospital negligence cases are complex and they require extensive legal and medical knowledge.  If you believe that you or a loved one has been harmed by the negligence of a medical professional, it is important that you contact an attorney who is experienced in medical malpractice and who maintains a medical doctor on staff, such as Ross Feller Casey.  They will be able to help you determine if you have a case and how to proceed. 

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.