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The Most Common Medical Errors that Can Lead to Medical Malpractice Cases

Medical malpractice costs Americans an estimated $55.6 billion per year. In fact, expenses relating to medical malpractice are 2.4% of all healthcare spending (Forbes).

An estimated 251,000 people lose their lives because of medical malpractice yearly in the United States (National Library of Medicine). Many more suffer injuries and prolonged illness.

While medical malpractice can occur in any setting, some errors routinely cause harm to patients and lead to medical malpractice claims.

Here are 10 of the most common medical errors that can lead to medical malpractice cases:

1. Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis occurs when a healthcare provider incorrectly determines the patient’s injury or illness. Even highly skilled and experienced practitioners may not have the necessary information to diagnose a complex case. By itself, misdiagnosis is not medical malpractice.

However, misdiagnosis is medical malpractice when the healthcare provider does not use the skill, training, and resources they should have used to evaluate the patient. They must use an expected degree of care to gather information, order necessary tests, and make a diagnosis. When a healthcare provider fails to meet their obligation, and misdiagnosis is the result, it can lead to a medical malpractice claim.

2. Delayed Diagnosis

A diagnosis can be made too late. If a healthcare provider ignores the warning signs, a health condition, disease, or injury may not be diagnosed within a reasonable amount of time. With a delayed diagnosis, the victim may need additional care. A condition that could have been reversed may advance too far to respond to treatment.

Like a misdiagnosis, reaching a proper diagnosis can take time, even for a skilled and experienced healthcare provider. However, when a diagnosis is delayed because of medical error, it can lead to a medical malpractice case.

3. Overtreatment/Undertreatment

Too much treatment and intervention can cause harm to a patient. Overtreatment can occur in many ways, including overmedicating, unnecessary surgery, physical therapy, chemotherapy, and more. 

Undertreatment can lead to additional medical issues and prolong suffering. Similarly, proceeding too cautiously can prevent the patient from getting the help that they need. Both may amount to medical malpractice that can lead to litigation.

4. Adverse Drug Events

An adverse drug event occurs when someone is harmed by taking medicine (CDC). It can occur in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Harm may be severe – 46% of adverse drug events are life-threatening. Common drugs responsible for adverse drug events are antibiotics, antidepressants, antipsychotics, cardiovascular medications, and anticoagulants. Adverse drug events account for 6.3% of medical malpractice claims (JAMA Internal Medicine).

5. Surgical Errors

Any surgical procedure creates risk. A physician must perform surgery with reasonable skill and attention. Mistakes resulting from failing to meet the standard of care may lead to a medical malpractice claim.

Examples of surgical errors are operating on the wrong body part, operating while fatigued or under stress, damaging other body parts, failing to respond to adverse events during surgery, and sanitation issues that cause complications. A surgical error may require prolonged healing, additional treatment, and even extra medical procedures. Healthcare providers may not readily disclose the error, so an investigation may be needed to learn what happened.

6. Obstetrical/Childbirth Errors

Medical errors in childbirth are especially devastating because of their potential to cause lifelong damage. A child may need significant early intervention and therapies. Their care needs may last for a lifetime. 

Childbirth injuries occur when care providers fail to account for risk factors like premature delivery, prolonged labor, exceptionally large infant size, breech position, and other unusual circumstances. They must timely respond to signs of distress and complications. Injuries may include brain damage, bleeding, peripheral nerve damage, spinal cord damage, bone fractures, and intra-abdominal wounds.

7. Failing to Respond Timely to Complications

Whether medical treatment is minor or extensive, there is always a possibility that complications may arise. A healthcare provider should be aware of the complications that are possible during the course of treatment. They should monitor the patient and respond when issues arise. 

Failing to timely respond to complications may prevent healing and cause additional injury. The result may be a medical malpractice case.

8. Fall and Restraint Injuries

When a person needs medical care, they are at elevated risk for a fall. A patient must be assessed for fall risk. They should be given mobility assistance and restraints as needed to prevent falls. 

When fall protection is not part of a comprehensive care plan, it may amount to medical malpractice. A fall may result in brain injury, bone fracture, bleeding, and other complications. About one-third of falls can be prevented (AHRQ).

9. Mistaken Identity

A critical part of healthcare is ensuring the proper care is given to the right patient. A simple case of mistaken identity can result in a person receiving medical services they do not need. It can prevent them from receiving the care that they depend on. 

Patients may not always be able to communicate their identity or recognize that a mistake has been made. The result can be devastating. Reasonable communication tools and checks can prevent mistaken identity resulting in medical malpractice (Patient Safety Network).

10. Improper Transfusions

A transfusion error occurs any time that a patient is not given the right blood at the right time. A blood transfusion may cause harm when the patient is given incompatible blood or when the product is not sufficiently screened for harmful bloodborne infections. Reactions may be extremely serious and even fatal. Through proper labeling and identification checks, improper transfusions may be prevented before medical malpractice occurs (Mayo Clinic).

Source: (Carver, Gupta, Hipskind, Medical Error, 2021.) 

What is a medical error?

A medical error is an unintended, adverse medical consequence. It is an error that is not harmful to the patient. (Carver, Gupta, Hipskind, Medical Error, 2021.)

Lawyers for Medical Malpractice

At Bobby Jones Law, we take on even the most complicated cases and succeed. Bobby Jones is a medical malpractice attorney handling cases in Greenville and South Carolina. He gives his all to each case. If you or a loved one may have been the victim of medical malpractice, contact us to see how we can help you.

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