Medical errors are a leading cause of death among patients nationwide. These untimely deaths are all the more tragic because they're wholly preventable. Even when mistakes don't result in death, they can still lead to serious complications, unnecessary risks, misguided treatments and skyrocketing medical bills.
In Minnesota alone, there were 336 reported incidents of medical errors in hospitals and surgical centers last year - up nearly 10 percent from 2015. However, the number of deaths from medical errors slightly decreased.
Which mistakes happen most often?
The Minnesota Department of Health tracks the occurrence of 29 preventable mistakes. The most common include:
- Bedsores: Also known as decubitus ulcers, these sores form when bed-ridden patients are improperly positioned or not repositioned frequently enough. Left untreated, the sores can lead to severe complications, including infection and sepsis.
- Falls: Hospitals and other health care institutions should have safety protocols in place for fall-risk patients. Failure to follow these protocols - or inadequate supervision - can lead to major injuries when falls occur.
Together, falls and bedsores made up roughly 60 percent of the medical errors reported last year.
Other types of errors, though less common, shouldn't be overlooked. Nationwide, the most serious medical missteps include:
- Medication errors: The wrong medication, wrong dose, missed doses, dangerous drug interactions - these mistakes can all have deadly consequences.
- Surgical errors: From wrong-site surgery to items left behind in the body, these mistakes are "never events," meaning they should never take place. Nonetheless, they still do.
- Diagnosis errors: When doctors overlook a critical diagnosis - or make the wrong diagnosis - the consequences can quickly multiply. Delays reduce the patient's chances of being able to effectively treat the condition. Mistakes can result in unnecessary high-risk treatments. In cases involving heart attacks, strokes or other life-threatening conditions, an overlooked diagnosis can be fatal.
What you can do
We're fortunate to live in a time when most of us have ready access to advanced medical care. However, that doesn't make mistakes any less serious.
Whenever you're seeking medical treatment, don't be afraid to ask questions or get a second opinion. Take the time you need with your health care provider to understand what's going on. Make sure your concerns are heard, and don't hesitate to stand up for yourself.