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Medical errors make it dangerous to seek care

Doctors, surgeons, nurses and other health care professionals spend years of their lives studying medicine. When you are sick or hurt and seek treatment, you are relying on their knowledge and experience. Despite years of education and experience in the field, medical errors are frighteningly common.

Not all mistakes in life are dangerous. If you accidentally take your spouse's keys to work instead of your own, no one's life is on the line. A mistake or error at the doctor's office or in a hospital can be dangerous or even fatal. Because of this, it is important to hold medical professionals in Massachusetts responsible for any errors they make while on the job.

Medical mistakes kill people

A Johns Hopkins study concluded that doctor errors directly cause approximately 250,000 deaths every year. Based on this figure, doctor errors are the third most common cause of death in America. Only heart disease and cancer cause more deaths.

However, the study from Johns Hopkins may not have painted a complete picture. Different studies have estimated that the real number of deaths could be as many as 440,000 per year. Information regarding medical errors or system failures are very rarely noted on death certificates, so pinning down an exact figure is difficult. It also does not help that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control does not collect data on medical error fatalities.

What contributes to these errors?

There is no single cause for mistakes. In some cases, inexperienced staff are put into positions for which they are not qualified. For example, instead of employing an educated trained pharmacist, some hospitals have pharmacy technicians compound IV medications that will be used for patients. The requirements for becoming a pharmacy tech are often minimal, and it is easy for inexperienced technicians to incorrectly compound medications.

Errors in judgement -- including misdiagnoses -- are another leading cause of medical errors. Missing a diagnosis altogether is another problem and may be especially dangerous when a doctor fails to identify a surgical error. These are human errors that can have life-threatening effects on patients.

Protecting yourself is not easy

Health care advocates, insurance companies and even medical professionals encourage patients to advocate for themselves. This includes things like seeking second opinions, asking detailed questions or bringing a friend or family member who can help advocate for your well-being. While this might be good advice, it is not always practical. A patient who needs emergency or extensive care will probably not have the opportunity to use any of these strategies.

You sought care with the expectation that your doctor and other hospital staff members would treat you correctly. Unfortunately, you now understand just how devastating medical errors can be. However, you do not have to suffer alone and without help. In Massachusetts, you have the option to seek compensation for things like related medical bills, lost wages, physical pain and even emotional trauma. Navigating the complicated world of medical malpractice claims is often challenging though, so you should be sure to speak with an experienced attorney first.

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