By Matt Sowell and Fadi Chakour, M.D.
People are often shocked to learn that medical errors are the third cause of death in America, following heart disease and cancer. According to a recent published study, between 210,000- 440,000 patients may die each year in American hospitals because of medical errors.
This study and others teach us that when something bad or unexpected happens leading to a preventable death or life changing injury, it may be the result of medical malpractice. The families we represent often seek our help because they want to know what happened to their loved one and why. Those answers often lie in the medical records we obtain when investigating a medical malpractice claim.
There are many potential causes of medical malpractice. Communication breakdowns are a common one we’ve seen during our more than 30 years of representing medical malpractice victims and their families.
In one of our cases, a patient with a routine heart catheter died after the procedure because the nurse didn’t call the doctor when the patient’s pulse dropped to a dangerous level, despite the doctor’s written order to be contacted if it fell below the specified threshold. When the nurse finally called the doctor, it was too late to reverse the damage. The patient died a few hours later. It was a tragic, preventable death.
Poor communication of information during shift changes in nursing and medical staff is another common cause of medical errors resulting in harm.
Lastly, failing to communicate radiology results to one of our patients, who had highly curable lung cancer, cost him his life. The man sought medical treatment for coughing up blood. A chest X-ray showed a small tumor in one of his lungs. It was treatable. Neither our client nor his ordering physician received the X-ray results. When he went back for another X-ray nine months later, the mass had grown and spread so that it was no longer treatable. Sadly, he died because of the delay in diagnosis.
Surgical errors, medication errors, incomplete medical histories, misdiagnoses and delayed diagnoses are common causes of medical mistakes we’ve seen in the clients we’ve represented.
What you can do
You can help prevent medical errors by having an advocate stay with you while you’re at the hospital. Your advocate should be by your side and ask why medical staff are doing what they’re doing and why, and speak up if there are any concerns. It also helps to be informed about your loved one’s condition, treatments and expected outcomes. It’s important to remember that most medical professionals provide high quality medical care. In our cases, it’s not uncommon for us to see the same few practitioners committing medical malpractice.