How Often Do Doctors Make Mistakes?

Phobias about hospitals, doctors, and dentists are common – but then again, so are serious medical mistakes.  While most medical professionals do everything in their power to provide their patients with precise and skillful care, the alarming reality is that hundreds of thousands of people are injured or wrongfully killed every year because of doctor negligence and human error.  But just how widespread is the problem?  And what are the most common types of medical malpractice in the United States?

Study Estimates 210,000 to 440,000 Wrongful Deaths in Hospitals Annually

Using the most recent data available, the CDC reports that America’s hospitals collectively discharge about 35 million patients from inpatient care per year.  More than 51 million medical procedures were performed in 2010, resulting in an average hospital stay of about five days.  When it comes to outpatient care, the numbers are even higher: a staggering 125.7 million visits per year.  The CDC also reported more than 136 million emergency department visits in 2010, including over 2 million patients in critical care.

With so many patients constantly filtering in and out of the U.S. hospital system, perhaps it’s statistically inevitable that mistakes occur.  However, just how many mistakes may surprise you – and not in a positive way.

The Journal of Patient Safety is a quarterly, peer-reviewed medical journal dedicated to identifying and improving practices for preventing deaths and injuries among medical patients.  In September of 2013, the Journal of Patient Safety published a study examining the frequency of “patient harms associated with hospital care” (i.e. injuries and illness caused by doctor errors in hospital settings).

The study divided doctor mistakes or “preventable adverse events” (PAEs) into five categories: commission errors (performance errors), omission errors (failing to perform a necessary procedure), communication errors (provider-provider, provider-patient), context errors (failing to take all relevant factors into account), and diagnostic errors (misdiagnosis, e.g. missed cancer diagnosis).

The study, which compared data taken from earlier analyses, disputed earlier findings from 2010, in which the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services initially stated that PAEs were a factor in 15,000 deaths per month, or about 180,000 deaths per year.

The Journal of Patient Safety study determined that the true numbers were even greater, closer in scope to 210,000 to as many as 440,000 patient deaths each year.  At the “low” end of the spectrum, that’s an average of 575 deaths per day.  If the higher number is correct, that average increases to about 1,205 preventable patient deaths per day – 50 fatalities every hour.

In its conclusion, the Patient Safety study astutely remarked that “in a sense, it does not matter whether the deaths of 100,000, 200,000 or 400,000 Americans each year are associated with PAEs in hospitals. Any of the estimates demands assertive action on the part of providers, legislators, and people who will one day become patients.”

How Often Do Doctors Make Mistakes?

Common Types of Medical Malpractice and Doctor Mistakes

Numerous types of medical mistakes can lead to serious injury or wrongful death, depending on factors like the patient’s condition, the doctor’s field of study, the medical equipment being used, and the medications being prescribed.  That being said, certain types of mistakes appear to be more widespread than others.

When most people hear the phrase “medical malpractice,” they probably imagine surgical procedures gone horribly wrong.  While everyone dreads the nerve-wracking prospect of undergoing surgery, statistical data indicates that misdiagnosis is actually a far more common problem.

According to a 2014 press release issued by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, diagnostic errors affect about one in 20 adults, or about 5% of adult patients in the United States. That means about 12 million U.S. adults will become victims of a misdiagnosis during a single year.  These figures come from 2014 study published in BMJ Quality and Safety.

That being said, surgical errors are also not unheard of – particularly with regard to surgical object retention, or foreign object retention, which occurs when surgeons accidentally leave an object inside the patient’s body.  According to one analysis, “Researchers at the Mayo clinic found that during the four-year period from 2003 to 2006, the rate of retained foreign objects was 1 in every 5,500 operations, and 68% of the retained objects were sponges.”

Wrong site surgery, or WSS, is another rare but serious surgical error, occurring in “1 out of 27,686 cases, or 1 out of every 112,994 surgeries” according to one handbook for nurses.

If you were injured or became ill after receiving poor quality medical care, you may be a victim of medical malpractice and may be able to recover compensation.  Personal injury lawyer Brent Wieand can help you explore your legal options.  To set up a free and confidential case evaluation, call Brent right away at (888) 789-3161.  Brent serves clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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