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Preventable Medical Harm Is Far Too Common

Updated: Aug 25, 2020


Experts say patients can take steps to protect themselves.


In 2016, a study on what happened in a handful of hospitals in the US extrapolated what they found in those hospitals to estimate that there were between 200,000 to 400,000 deaths each year in the US due to preventable medical errors. That would make death due to medical errors the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer. It would cause more deaths than Covid 19 which today (August 24, 2020) exceed 180,000 in the US.

The good news is that the number of deaths due to medical error is likely lower than the number the researchers estimated. A better estimate is that deaths due to medical error are approximately 110,000 annually. Secondly, the number of deaths from medical errors are decreasing every year, so the medical community is going in the right direction.


The bad news is that the number of deaths from medical error are still significant, and that approximately twice as many people suffer significant harm from medical errors but do not die. About 220,000 people will have significant life problems due to preventable medical errors and they will live with the harm.


5% to 10% of people receiving health care will be impacted by a medical error causing harm.


CareMoat members have peace of mind because we have your back 24/7 every day. If you are not a member it is still important for you to protect yourself.


Here are what experts recommended:

Make sure you fully understand any procedure or medication your doctor is recommending — and why. It’s very easy for physicians to speak in medical language that is not readily understandable by most people. Make sure you get explanations about what is happening and what the plan is, and really

hold your health care team to that.

Brief the doctor on your allergies and health conditions, as well as on any medications you take. If you have someone with you, make sure they know this information, and if not, have it written down and in sight so that any staff attending to you is aware and the information doesn’t get lost during a rotation. That list should include any vitamins or supplements you are taking.

Do not assume every provider has access to all your healthcare information. Be prepared to communicate it to each individual doctor. Between specialists and their primary-care physician [and] even going in for surgery, the assumption is that all that information is there, and it may not be. The state of information technology is 20 years behind, and there is a lack of ability to share information even within a single hospitals system and there is incorrect information in some cases.

Bring a friend or family member, especially if you have poor health

literacy or communication difficulties. Most people, when they’re hospitalized, are not operating at full capacity — so having a family member or friend with them in the hospital to keep a careful eye on things and speak up if they do sense that something may be wrong can really be tremendously effective in preventing any potential error. If it is not possible to bring an in-person advocate, try enlisting one remotely through tools like FaceTime.

Keep close track of your medications and results. Patients should double check with their health professional/pharmacist that this type/dose of medication is the correct one for their condition. especially if this is the first time that they receive this medication or if there is a substantial change in the dose. They should also keep track of prior clinical results and be able to identify any massive differences between time-points. If they have been getting two pink pills and then next time the pills are yellow, you should speak up. It could also mean you received the wrong drug.

Make sure your doctor washes their hands. Handwashing is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of spreading infection, but research shows not all health-care providers practice proper hand hygiene. it’s important that you speak up.

Research wisely. There is a lot to be said for looking at what procedures do ideally, what the risks and benefits are. Make sure you’re getting information from reputable sources like the Mayo Clinic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Medscape or the AAFP-operated FamilyDoctor.org. M

Do not be afraid to speak up. You have to be your own advocate. The likelihood of error decreases significantly if you are willing and able to speak up if you have any questions or sense that something might be wrong. This advice may be particularly relevant for women, as research shows they are more likely to be under-treated for pain, less likely to have their symptoms taken seriously and more likely to be misdiagnosed. Women should make sure they mention their top concern first when they meet with their provider.

Ask your provider what they’re doing to prevent errors. Asking whether they have technology in place to safeguard against medical errors and if not, whether there are any other preventative measures in place. If the physician is dismissive or demeaning of your concern, that is a red flag.


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