Understanding Common Medical Errors

Understanding Common Medical Errors

Despite most healthcare professionals striving to provide high-quality care, they are as human as the rest of us and mistakes may occur. Medical errors are fortunately fairly rare, but they can have serious or even life-threatening consequences in some cases.

Being aware of the most common types of medical errors can empower you to be a more informed and engaged patient. If you or a loved one are harmed by a doctor’s negligence, it may be worth consulting with a medical malpractice attorney in Portland to discuss your family’s legal options. 

Missed or Delayed Diagnoses

Diagnostic errors occur when a patient’s injury or illness is not correctly identified and treated in a timely manner. There are two main types of diagnostic error: misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis. A misdiagnosis happens when a doctor makes a diagnosis but it is not correct.

The patient may undergo treatment for a condition they do not have or receive minimal treatment if the perceived illness is assumed to be minor. Delayed diagnosis refers to situations where a diagnosis either takes an unreasonably long time or is never received at all. When a diagnosis is delayed, the underlying problem may continue to get worse, potentially requiring more invasive treatment or putting the patient’s life at risk. 

Incorrect Prescriptions or Administration of Medications 

Medication errors are another one of the more common types of medical error. Medication errors are particularly concerning as they may occur at any stage of the treatment process, from prescription to administration. These mistakes can take the form of:

  • An incorrect medication being selected for treatment
  • Over- or underdose
  • Failure to account for potential drug interactions between medications
  • Medication administered through the wrong route
  • Medication mistakenly given to the wrong patient

Surgical Errors 

Surgical errors are fortunately uncommon, but they can cause massive damage if and when they do occur. One of the most concerning types of surgical error is wrong-site surgery, where a procedure is performed on the wrong body part or even on the wrong patient entirely. In other cases, problems may be caused by inferior surgical equipment, mistakes in surgical technique, or anesthesia errors. Surgical complications can cause injuries like organ damage, excessive bleeding, or infection.

Communication Errors Capable of Causing Harm

Effective communication is essential to ensuring the best possible patient outcomes in healthcare. When members of a healthcare team do not convey information effectively, errors in patient care may result. For instance, incomplete handoffs between doctors or nurses can result in important medical information being overlooked by mistake. Similarly, inadequate communication with lab technicians, specialists, or surgeons can lead to mistakes during a procedure or diagnostic problems.

While communication between medical professionals is critical, it is just as important that doctors accurately convey information to their patients. If patients do not understand their treatment plan, diagnosis, or potential risks of procedures, they may be less likely to stick to their plan of care.

If informed consent is not received, patients may be exposed to risks they would not have agreed to if given proper information. Open and honest communication helps protect a patient’s health and allow them to make informed decisions regarding their care. 

Problems Caused by Incomplete or Inaccurate Medical Records

Accurate and complete medical records are crucial to keep patients safe and reduce the risks of a number of errors. Incomplete or inaccurate medical records can take the forms of:

  • Errors in a patient’s treatment history
  • Lack of recorded allergies
  • Lack of a patient’s prescriptions
  • Missing or incorrect diagnostic test results

Errors in a patient’s medical records can lead to confusion among healthcare providers. In particularly bad situations, a patient may receive the wrong medication or treatment based upon errors in their file. 

In some cases, a patient’s file may not contain inaccurate information, but rather have gaps in the person’s relevant medical history. Failing to add critical information to a patient’s file can be as problematic as adding incorrect details. Missing documentation of medication administration, vital signs, or patient assessments can hinder a medical team’s ability to produce a relevant, useful plan of care.

Protecting Yourself From Adverse Medical Outcomes

Medical errors are complex and can be caused by a number of factors. By being aware of the most common types of medical errors, patients can be active participants in their treatment plan and act to protect their own health. If you feel uncertain or confused about a diagnosis or treatment plan, always ask for additional details and don’t feel bad about seeking a second opinion if needed. We hope this article helps you stay healthy for many years to come!


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