Avoidable Medical Mistakes: More Prevalent Than You May Know

To err is human. So the saying goes, but not all errors are equal. The fact is, when medical care providers make mistakes, it can be deadly. Avoidable medical mistakes are serious business. They can destroy lives and very often lead to death. In fact, in a study done by Dr. Barbara Starfield of the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, she found that medical treatments account for 225,000 deaths per year. Even though 106,000 were not from errors, that would still rank them the third leading cause of all deaths in the U.S. We go the hospital expecting to get better, not to get worse. We don't expect to be treated with medical negligence. A well known 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 patients die each year as a result of avoidable medical mistakes. To put that number in perspective, that's like five 747 commercial airline jets full of passengers crashing in this country each week for an entire year. Five airline disasters a week! Those numbers are huge and completely unacceptable. If you're a victim of medical negligence, you can fight back. You don't have to accept what the hospital tells you. An experienced Portland medical malpractice lawyer can guide you through the maze of medical negligence litigation.

Resident Sleep Deprivation

One possible cause of avoidable medical mistakes is simple sleep-deprivation. When you think about it, it's pretty logical. When you run to the emergency room in the middle of the night, who are the people usually there to help you? The answer is often sleep-deprived residents. These doctors in training are the lowest on the totem pole and often expected to sleep overnight in the hospital, working as needed and catching moments of sleep now and then when they can. It's no wonder they're so sleep-deprived. Depending on how busy the night is, they might not get any sleep at all. These are the people we depend on to take care of us and often to make life and death decisions about our medical care. Sleep deprivation is one likely cause among others for so many medical errors.

Sleep-deprivation is such a serious problem that in 2008 the Institute of Medicine released a report for the US Congress titled "Resident Duty Hours: Enhancing Sleep, Supervision, and Safety." In this report they recommended some important changes for physicians in training, including a mandatory 5-hour break for sleep when on a 30-hour shift. Though shocking in itself (shifts that last up to 30 hours?), the report was an important step, but it's not enough. With the staggering prevalence of medical negligence, one would hope the improvements would be greater than that. The report says nothing about other non resident physicians. Residents aren't the only ones we depend on, after all. They're not the only ones responsible for medical errors.

Impaired Judgment

If that's not alarming enough, check this out. According to an article for healthyshiftworker.com, "If you've been awake for 17 hours straight, then your performance is equivalent to that of someone who has a blood alcohol-level of 0.05%". Physicians and residents often work 30 hour shifts with only recently the added bonus of 5 hours of sleep. When sleep deprivation otherwise known and mental exhaustion renders a doctor the cognitive equivalent of intoxicated, costly medical mistakes are virtually guaranteed. This is not okay.

Something needs to be done about this. While the medical community seems to be attempting some improvements, deaths from misdiagnosis and other avoidable medical mistakes are going to continue until the American Medical Association (AMA) takes real measures to protect patients from medical negligence. If you've been the victim of medical negligence, speak up and be heard. Don't be intimidated by hospital rhetoric. Seek the advice of a reputable medical malpractice lawyer. Angel Law, P.C. can help you decide whether or not a legal remedy is an option for you.