We would all like to believe that the purpose of the medical industry is to heal patients, not hurt them. Yet few people realize just how frequently medical errors occur. In fact, medical mistakes are one of the leading causes of death nationwide – right up there with heart disease and cancer.
The most common mistakes include:
- Medication errors involving the wrong drug or dosage
- Botched surgeries
- Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis
- Anesthesia errors
- Negligent prenatal care
- Childbirth and delivery trauma
Medical malpractice by the numbers
Just how common are deadly mistakes in the medical profession? Based on estimates from NBC News, approximately 251,000 people lost their lives in 2013 due to medical errors. To put this number into perspective, the number of deaths due to heart disease and cancer were 611,000 and 585,000 respectively.
These estimates paint a dire picture. They indicate that medical errors are almost half as deadly as cancer, and they may rank as the third leading cause of death nationwide.
Pinpointing the causes
Why do these deadly mistakes happen? The answers aren’t always clear. A major reason is simple human error. Fundamentally, despite their advanced training and education, medical practitioners are still human. They aren’t always at the top of their game every moment of every day.
Some errors can also be traced to institutional failures. Hospitals, clinics and other health care facilities are responsible for hiring qualified staff and implementing the right policies to reduce the risk of errors. When they fail in these responsibilities, it’s their patients who suffer.
Understanding what went wrong
Not every case of medical malpractice is well understood – or even detected. So many things can go wrong with a vulnerable patient. It isn’t easy to identify every possible factor that contributed to their death. Better investigation and documentation may help shed light on why errors happen and how they can be prevented.