When you’re a patient, you trust you’re in good hands, but even the best doctor or nurse can make a mistake on you or someone you love. The harm is often avoidable, and there are strategies you can use to help doctors and nurses get things right
#1 Mistake: Treating the wrong patient
- Cause: Hospital staff fails to verify a patient’s identity.
- Consequences: Patients with similar names are confused.
- Prevention: Before every procedure in the hospital, make sure the staff checks your entire name, date of birth and barcode on your wrist band.
#2 Mistake: Surgical souvenirs
- Cause: Surgical staff miscounts (or fails to count) equipment used inside a patient during an operation.
- Consequences: Tools get left inside the body.
- Prevention: If you have unexpected pain, fever or swelling after surgery, ask if you might have a surgical instrument inside you.
#3 Mistake: Lost patients
- Cause: Patients with dementia are sometimes prone to wandering.
- Consequences: Patients may become trapped while wandering and die from hypothermia or dehydration.
- Prevention: If your loved one sometimes wanders, consider a GPS tracking bracelet.
- Mistake: Fake doctors
- Cause: Con artists pretend to be doctors.
- Consequences: Medical treatments backfire. Instead of getting better, patients get sicker.
- Prevention: Confirm online that your physician is licensed.
- Mistake: The ER waiting game
- Cause: Emergency rooms get backed up when overcrowded hospitals don’t have enough beds.
- Consequences: Patients get sicker while waiting for care.
- Prevention: Doctors listen to other doctors, so on your way to the hospital call your physician and ask them to call the emergency room.
- Mistake: Air bubbles in blood
- Cause: The hole in a patient’s chest isn’t sealed airtight after a chest tube is removed.
- Consequences: Air bubbles get sucked into the wound and cut off blood supply to the patient’s lungs, heart, kidneys and brain. Left uncorrected the patient dies.
- Prevention: If you have a central line tube in you, ask how you should be positioned when the line comes out.
- Mistake: Operating on the wrong body part
- Cause: A patient’s chart is incorrect, or a surgeon misreads it, or surgical draping obscures marks that denote the correct side of the operation.
- Consequences: The surgeon cuts into the wrong side of a patient’s body.
- Prevention: Just before surgery, make sure you reaffirm with the nurse and the surgeon the correct body part and side of your operation.
- Mistake: Infection infestation
- Cause: Doctors and nurses don’t wash their hands.
- Consequences: Patients can die from infections spread by hospital workers.
- Prevention: It may be uncomfortable to ask, but make sure doctors and nurses wash their hands before they touch you, even if they’re wearing gloves.
- Mistake: Lookalike tubes
- Cause: A chest tube and a feeding tube can look a lot alike.
- Consequences: Medicine meant for the stomach goes into the chest.
- Prevention: When you have tubes in you, ask the staff to trace every tube back to the point of origin so the right medicine goes to the right place.
- Mistake: Waking up during surgery
- Cause: An under-dose of anesthesia.
- Consequences: The brain stays awake while the muscles stay frozen. Most patients aren’t in any pain but some feel every poke, prod and cut.
- Prevention: When you schedule surgery, ask your surgeon if you need to be put asleep or if a local anesthetic might work just as well.
Do you have a personal story to tell about a medical mistake? Share it in the comments section below or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org