Top 10 Shocking Medical Mistakes

Medical Mistakes

A June 9, 2012 report lists 10 shocking medical mistakes:

  1. Treating the Wrong Patient – A common cause of treating the wrong patient is that the hospital staff fails to check the entire name, date of birth, and identification of the patient.
  2. Surgical Souvenirs –  This is known to my fellow medical malpractice lawyers as a “retained foreign object” case.  Often this is caused by the failure of the surgical staff to complete a before and after count of all surgical tools and surgical sponges.
  3. Lost Patient – Elderly patients with dementia or patients who have suffered a serious brain injury are at risk of wandering from the hospital or nursing home.  Some patients have even suffered injury and death from wandering into dangerous areas such as closets with chemicals, hot tubs, or swimming pools.
  4. Imposter Doctors or Nurses – Cases have been reported where a con artist or criminal have pretended to be a doctor or a nurse.  Modern hospitals use a credentialing process to grant privileges to the doctors who practice in their hospitals.  Each physician and nurse in a hospital is required to wear a visible name tag with their identification information visible to the patient.
  5. Emergency Room Waiting – Overcrowding in the ER can cause long waiting times.  When the waiting room becomes too crowded, hospitals should provide a triage nurse to determine if a waiting patient is in need of immediate medical care.  Triage is a medical method of treating the most critical patients first.
  6. Air Bubbles in Blood – When a chest tube is removed from a patient after serious injury or surgery, it is essential that an airtight seal is confirmed so air can’t enter the patient’s chest and blood stream.  If air bubbles enter the patients lungs, heart, kidneys or brain, the patient could suffer serious injury or death.
  7. Surgery on Wrong Body Part –  Operating on the wrong body is a surprisingly common medical mistake.  This is usually caused by an incorrect reading of a patient’s chart, or poor preparation of the surgical field of a patient’s body prior to surgery.
  8. Infection – Regulations require hospitals to take significant steps to stop the spread of infection.  However, simple mistakes such as failing to wash hands completely, or improper sterilization of medical equipment can lead to dangerous infection problems.
  9. Tube Problems – Chest tubes and feeding tubes look similar.  If the wrong tube is used, medicine can be administered that will harm the patient.  Improper intubation or improper placement of a nasogastric tube (meant to go into the stomach) can cause a patient to aspirate, suffocate, and suffer an anoxic brain injury or death. Clear identification of the source of the tube and confirmation of the placement is essential for patient safety.
  10. Waking Up in the Middle of a Surgery –  Anesthesiologists have a huge responsibility to monitor and administer powerful drugs during a surgery.  If the anesthesia is not administered in the proper dosage, a patient may wake up during the surgery.  If the patient is given too much medication or is not carefully monitored, brain injury like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can occur which may cause the patient to enter a persistent vegetative state or die.

The list compiled by CNN is certainly not inclusive of all of the medical mistakes that happen.  As quoted in the article, doctors at Johns Hopkins state that medical errors kill over 250,000 Americans every year and injure millions.  The harm in those cases is often avoidable.

The CNN report can be found at